Why Regina King’s ‘One Night in Miami’ is not just brilliant, but timely

This timely piece of cinema is a masterpiece in more ways than one

· Feb 8, 2021 Tweet

Head archivist Amy Sloper inspects a film print.
Erik Brown/The Badger Herald

Eminent Actress Regina King makes her directorial debut with “One Night in Miami,” an adaptation of Kemp Powers’ one-act play of the same title that details a fictional 1963 meeting between powerful members of the African American community.

The group includes civil rights activist Malcolm X, played by Kingsley Ben-Adir, boxing champion Cassius Clay, played by Eli Goree, singer Sam Cooke, played by Leslie Odom Jr., and NFL superstar Jim Brown, played by Aldis Hodge.

After Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, defeats Sonny Liston in his first-ever heavyweight title bout, the group meets up at a Miami hotel in a celebratory mood.

What’s expected to be a party quickly turns into a convivial debate led by Malcolm X, urging the rest of the group to forgo selfish tendencies and instead join his efforts fighting for racial equality. What ensues is 90 minutes of some of the best character development moviegoers will be blessed with all year.

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Dialogue movies aren’t for everyone. Leave no mistake, this is not a movie with action set pieces or comedic intentions. Rather, it is a film that showcases the gravity of a masterful script and the cruciality of its eloquent delivery.

While inconsistent pacing is a common error of dialogue-driven movies, “One Night in Miami” doesn’t fall into the trap.

Regina King’s blocking — motion of the camera in relation to the actors — of script-heavy scenes keeps the audience engaged. And while play adaptations often get overly snappy and a bit too rehearsed, when it comes to quick exchanges or lengthy monologues, the acting ensemble is what makes “One Night in Miami” special.

Kingsley Ben-Adir’s portrayal of Malcolm X is truly a standout performance. While Cassius Clay might be the one throwing the punches, Ben-Adir dominates scenes with piercing, thought-provoking words that effectively convey a character juggling courage and concern.

Yet perhaps the most significant character arc presented in the film is that of Leslie Odom Jr.’s Sam Cooke. The “Hamilton” star is a natural in this role, mixing his musical talent and on-screen charisma into a character aloof to his own immeasurable potential to inspire change.

Expect both men to receive nominations for lead and supporting actor respectively. 

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The film’s ending sequence, accompanied by Odom Jr.’s gifted vocals in “A Change is Gonna Come,” alone justifies its adaptation.

While it’s far from a movie inundated by overt racial, religious and political statements, the perpetually entertaining banter between the characters address the importance of powerful figures using their platforms to encourage and deliver necessary change, an incredibly relevant topic.

Overall, “One Night in Miami” isn’t limited to being a serious Best Picture contender, instead, it’s a perfectly timed reminder to Americans of how extensively — yet marginally — society has progressed over the last half-century. 


This article was published Feb 8, 2021 at 3:22 pm and last updated Feb 8, 2021 at 6:19 pm


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