Over the past years actor Regina King has established herself as a tour de force in front of the camera, and now she’s proving just how powerful she is behind one too. King impresses with her feature directorial debut One Night In Miami, a stunning and fascinating portrait of a meeting, and conflict, of minds between four black icons.
Based on the stage play of the same name by the talented Kemp Powers, who also wrote the screenplay for this movie, One Night In Miami depicts a fictional meeting between four legendary figures: Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.).
Celebrating Ali’s win over boxer Sonny Liston, the conversation soon turns to the future of black liberation, what that movement looks like and how best to achieve it. Set in 1964 as the civil rights movement was hitting its peak, tensions rise and the discussion becomes heated as differences in opinion are uncovered.
Carefully and precisely directing this meeting, King ensures it is both compelling and fascinating, leaving you much to think about once the credits have rolled. Each of the characters’ backgrounds and motivations are explored so you understand the perspective they are coming from, whilst a counter-argument is presented for each thought put forward. It is meticulously plotted out, and credit has to go to writer Powers as well as King for presenting a balanced view – the film ensures no side is taken.
Taking on this adaptation did present several challenges for King though, especially how to make a play, set in a single room, about one debate visually interesting, and watchable. She does a remarkable job though, and whilst some may find it too stagelike, it bravely wears its theatrical heart on its sleeve and that is something to be relished.
King makes excellent use of space, putting to good use the small hotel room in which the vast majority of the movie takes place, adding in an element of claustrophobia to help the intellectual conflicts unravel. She may need to make room in her awards cabinet for another Oscar to put next to one she won for Best Supporting Actress in If Beale Street Could Talk.
It is also gorgeous visually, with production designer Barry Robinson creating these lush and rich settings which are not only an evocation of the period in which its set, but also beautiful to look at, especially since they are shot by cinematographer Tami Reiker.
Admittedly at times the film lacks dynamism and energy, occasionally becoming rather stationary, but that is to be expected considering the characters never come to full blows, both physically and verbally. It never stops being captivating though, and this is also thanks to the outstanding quartet of actors King has cast to play these iconic figures.
Every single one of them throws themself into their character, understanding the nuances of their personality and bringing this to the screen, with flair of course. As Clay (soon to become Muhammad Ali) Goree is incredibly self-assured, fresh from his success in the ring, but his naivety and youth is also shown. Odom Jr. is a smooth talker and charmer as soul legend Sam Cooke, but his confidence is broken when he is berated by Ben-Adir’s Malcolm X.
That scene is one of the highlights and not just because of the way the intellectual battle is played out fiercely with words, but both Odom Jr. and Ben-Adir are truly magnetic, with the latter at his best here as the steely and driven leader. And then we have the ever fantastic Hodge as football hero Jim Brown, who invests his character with a degree of wariness and scepticism, contrasting him with the younger wide-eyed characters.
Whilst the film is worth the watch to see these actors’ incredible performances alone, One Night In Miami is an immensely rich and rewarding experience thanks to King’s great direction. Leaving you much to think about with its detailed analysis of black America at this crucial time, it is hard not to tear up as Cooke delivers an emotional performance of the song ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ in the film’s closing moments.
King, Powers and co. – take a bow!