One Night in Miami… (2020)

one night in miami poster 2020 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Interesting discussions on activism, doesn't feel like a play


Movie Info

Movie Name: One Night in Miami

Studio: ABKCO Films

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s): September 7, 2020 (Venice Film Festival)/December 25, 2020 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

one night in miami cassius clay defeats sonny liston eli goree

“Cassius Clay…you just won the world heavyweight championship…what are you going to do next?”
“I’m going to sit around a room and talk about life!!!”

On February 25, 1964 in Miami, Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) takes on Sonny Liston, and in an upset, Clay becomes the world heavyweight champion.  That night Clay, Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) travel to the hotel room of their friend Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) to celebrate the victory…but Cassius, Sam, and Jim discover that Malcolm’s idea of a party isn’t their idea of a party.  Malcolm wants to talk.  He wants to talk about Cassius’s plans to join the Nation of Islam and what the group can do to change future…but each man has their own opinion on where they are and where they intend to go as the night wears on.

Directed by Regina King (in her first feature film which she also served as producer), One Night in Miami… is a fictionalized drama account of the night of the February 25, 1964.  The film is an adaptation of Kem Powers’ 2013 play One Night in Miami… and received a theatrical release in 2020 followed by a digital release on Amazon Prime on January 15, 2021.  The film was well received by critics and received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Odom Jr.), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Song (“Speak Now”).  The Criterion Collection released the film as part of their collection (Criterion #1106).

one night in miami hotel cast

This is definitely not the Fountainebleau…

The adaptation of plays is tricky and often come off as a play put to screen.  With a group of men standing around talking about social issues, I was a bit concerned that One Night in Miami… would just be an adaptation that feels like an adaptation.  Instead, the dialogue feels real and doesn’t have the stunted, unnatural feel that movie versions of plays can often have, and a lot of that can be handed to King and the actors involved.

The story is surprisingly layered.  With the “characters” of Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Cassius Clay, you’re dealing with people who are all in different modes of their lives.  Clay is young and on fire, and he’s has been taken under the wing of Malcolm X.  Sam Cooke has become a successful performer and producer of music.  Jim Brown is reaching the end of his playing career and dipping his toes in movies.  Malcolm X has risen in the Nation of Islam but is now having doubts due to disagreements with the church and increasing pressure from government groups who want to silent him.  Much of the discussion comes from Malcolm X’s belief that all four of them can do more and in particular the dynamic between Cooke and Malcolm (who feels is squandering his status as a music star by performing “pleasing” songs to predominately white crowds).  Cooke view has the less militant approach of adapting within the white culture and becoming accepted by showing blacks and whites aren’t so different…while Cassius and Jim are kind of caught in the middle.

one night in miami rooftop fireworks

“…My hotel is on the beach…that’s all I’m saying Malcolm”

The acting is top notch.  With a characters like Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Malcolm X, actors have to be careful not to just create impressions of who they are performing.  The core four actors create rounded characters from these iconic figures without losing what makes them iconic which is extremely tricky both in writing and portrayal.  The film also has appearances by Beau Bridges, Lance Reddick, Lawrence Gilliard Jr. and Michael Imperioli.

Visually the movie has to combat the play feel and King does a good job of making the limited locations feel spacious despite the fact that a majority of the film takes place in a small hotel room.  Even in the hotel room, you instantly can see how Sam Cooke is living in places like the Fontainebleau versus what Malcolm X and others are forced (or are choosing to) stay in.  As Cooke’s character immediately recognizes the Hampton House Motel is a dump…yet one of the leaders of the Nation of Islam, Jim Brown, and Cassius Clay aren’t odd faces to see there because of where America was at the time.

one night in miami cast hotel

Well, Malcolm…you sure know how to throw a party

One Night in Miami… was a rather quick watch despite the heavy nature of the debate in the film.  It is two hours but the hours went by quickly.  It is a movie that provokes interesting questions that still resonate today in the ideas of “what is a celebrity’s job?” in particular as many actors and athletes are told to shut up and just make movies, just play, or just sing…but it is also a reminder that activism isn’t a new thing and has promoted change in the past.  It is a great first step for Regina King, and I will be looking forward to her next move be it acting or a new voice in directing.

Related Links:

The 93rd Academy Award Nominations

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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