By RJ Martin, Contributor
[Snoot Entertainment; 2020]
One Night in Miami… is the newest film from director Regina King and writer Kemp Powers, finding both of them honing their craft. This is only Powers’ second big-screen feature after co-directing and writing Pixar’s acclaimed Soul from late last year. The film is adapted from his original 2013 stage play, and it recounts the events of a meeting between four titans in black history: Malcom X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown and Cassius Clay (later to be Muhammad Ali). They met in celebration after Clay’s legendary victory over Sonny Liston in Miami, Florida.
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This meeting actually happened, but the script is a speculative fiction about what actually occurred. Powers takes us on a journey through a slice of these men’s lives and peels back the layers that are most commonly presented to us through history lessons. The film explores the personal, social and political landscapes of their lives, offering a unique perspective of each of the four men, especially Malcom X, that we don’t see often even in nonfiction.
The first half of the film has an air of positive energy, especially straight off the heels of Clay’s victory, but later we start to see the real tension and tribulations between the characters. Much of the exposition is spent exploring the tension between Malcom X and Sam Cooke, as they confront each other about their different roles within the civil rights movement. At this point in the film, the passion really shows in both the acting and writing.
It’s apparent that this film is a stage adaption, and in the best way possible. The dialogue is cutting and meaningful, and it’s made all the more better by the amazing performances. Perhaps the only falter might be the differing amount of focus given on any of the given four men, but it’s apparent enough to remove from the story. Though at points it feels like Brown and Clay take more of an auxiliary role, the focus on Malcom X and Cooke is never a detriment to the script or film itself. Overall, each of the four men have their own one-on-one and ensemble moments that feel natural and add depth to their characters.
One Night in Miami… is an excellent example of a stage-play-turned-film, and it has such an incredible mix of writing, direction and acting that you truly start to lose yourself in the film as the story unfolds. Even though the film takes place almost entirely in one motel room, the four’s immersive conversations leave you hanging on every word and excited to hear what will come next.
Watch the trailer here: