[TIFF 2020] ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI -- A Magnificent Combination of Talent Behind and in Front of the Camera
In addition to her Academy Award-winning work as an actress, Regina King has a quietly prolific career behind the camera in television, so expectations were understandably set quite high for her feature debut One Night in Miami. And she delivers as anticipated, using four excellent performances and a brilliant script to their fullest, making this a truly unmissable film.
Written by Kent Powers from his own stage play, the movie is set the night that boxer Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) becomes the heavyweight champion of the world, celebrating with his friends Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown. And since these men are some of the greatest African-American icons in their respective fields, it will be no surprise that it’s such a treat to see them together in one place.
King and Powers don’t make the mistake of assuming that the audience isn’t familiar with these icons — they know that they’re dealing with some of the most famous men in history — and so the focus here is on paying respect to their legacies and contributions while using their stories to say something.
The area in which it is most obvious that the film comes from theatrical origins is its dense dialogue. There’s a lot going on in the script thematically, and while it is a bit busy at times, a lot of it is really profound. It’s sad that stories like this, about minorities talking about minority issues told from a minority perspective are far too often ignored, if they even make it to the screen at all.
That said, from a technical standpoint, the movie feels a lot less stagey than one would expect. King does some really interesting things with the film, especially impressive given the fact that a majority of it is set in a single location. The cinematography by Tami Reiker and the score by the incredible Terrence Blanchard are stand-outs in an all-around well-made movie.
And all four performances are magnificent as well. The two higher-profile names in the cast, Leslie Odom Jr. and Aldis Hodge, are great, especially when Odom Jr. gets to sing, but it is the two lesser-knowns who steal the show. Both with massive shoes to fill from award-nominated biopic performances of these legends, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Eli Goree are extraordinary with their human takes on Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, respectively.
The film is at its best when it sticks to its core premise of allowing these legends to interact with one another. There is a sequence of about twenty minutes in which they split up, and it’s definitely the least effective portion of the movie. But Powers’s rapid-fire dialogue, executed wonderfully by King, keeps the film moving with ease.
One Night in Miami stands out thanks to its script and performances that are among the best of the year, but it is Regina King’s silently accomplished direction that will allow it to stick with viewers for years to come. She definitely has a very exciting future ahead of her as a filmmaker.
One Night in Miami screened as a part of the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival which runs September 10-19 and offers a blend of in-person and virtual (geoblocked to Canada) screenings.