One Night in Miami
12th October 2020 2.35pm at BFI Southbank (NFT)
While none would contest Regina King’s ability to stand in front of a camera and craft any screenplay into award-winning material, One Night in Miami proves that the actress shines even when out of the spotlight.
King’s directorial debut, based on Kemp Power’s acclaimed play of the same name, is set largely on the historic evening that Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree) clenched the 1964 heavyweight title. It imagines a fictional unfolding of events after the boxer opts to forgo a night on the town to celebrate with a few friends in a hotel room. But these aren’t just any companions, they are three more men whose reputation precedes them: activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr) and NFL legend Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).
Powers’s script delves into the private conversations of four iconic minds to unearth a razor-sharp commentary on the pressures of representation that automatically fall on successful black figures. As a piece originally written for the stage, it maintains the same intimacy, packed with meaty dialogue. And yet, King and her cast cleverly craft something that feels organically cinematic, using minimal locations to optimal effect. Goree tenderly explores the cracks in Ali’s cocky public persona as he navigates his imminent conversion to Islam, while Ben-Adir’s uncanny Malcolm X is a force to be reckoned with, conscientious to the point of aggression but behind closed doors, touchingly vulnerable. The haunting presence of his impending assassination creates a sense of urgency; his actions are steeped in history, the dramatic irony adding yet another layer of depth.
The tension in the film builds to explosive effect: when the action rises briefly to the roof and Malcolm’s religious fervour turns into a righteous attack on Sam’s career choices, the friction between friends upstages the actual fireworks (a nice visual touch), Odom Jr delivering a vehement defence that simmers between indignation and self-doubt. Hodge’s performance is more collected; though Jimmy is equally cynical, he has practised smoothing ruffled white feathers – in fact, his reserve is more telling than any outburst. This enclosed room, however, thrives on openness, offering the equal playing field that these powerful men have been denied in the wider world. Within this space, their frankness is not a sign of disregard but of respect. The bond they share feels easy; every joke, every pointed look lands effortlessly.
This story stands on the cusp of revolution, envisioning a pivotal union between an exquisitely defined quartet. King allows us the cinematic indulgence of watching scenes of each individual at the start and end of the film, almost like a before/after shot. Though these sections feel a little supplementary to the central act, they are an important reminder that each man spun his own uniquely influential legacy. This is one night in Miami that you won’t want to miss.
One Night in Miami does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for One Night in Miami here: