Oscar winner Regina King brings out the absolute best in four actors in her directorial debut, “One Night in Miami.”
Uniting Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, Malcolm X and Cassius Clay at a motel after Clay wins the heavyweight championship of the world, King makes it utterly believable they would share feelings about their place in the world and the struggles they endured. While the conversations were created by writer Kemp Powers, the meeting was real. The four actually were in Miami on that historic night in 1964.
That they’d spend so much time talking – not celebrating – is “Miami’s” biggest stretch. But King keeps this from becoming a TED talk or a museum display.
She shows all four before the big night, suggesting they’re at different places in life. Clay (Eli Goree) is the little brother, getting advice from the three who have had moments of elation. Not quite the showman he became, Clay reveals flashes of bravado and listens when Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) talks about the impact he could have on the Nation of Islam if he joined the fold.
Brown (Aldis Hodge), looking to segue into films, squares off with Malcolm X about doing more for the Black movement. Economic freedom, he insists, is the freedom that matters most.
On that count, he sees Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) as the biggest winner of them all.
King, however, shows the “Green Book” side of Cooke’s success. He may have had big hits, but he was still treated like an outsider at the places he played. Racism is a talking point but it isn’t the sole reason for their meeting.
To keep this entertaining, King weaves several Cooke performances throughout the film, capitalizing on Odom’s incredible voice. The most enigmatic of the four, Cooke deserves a standalone film and Odom would be the only one to play him. He’s magnificent.
While Powers plays with moments (bringing events from other times into this meeting), he stays true to the characters and gives us a night in Miami that explains plenty.
Like “Million Dollar Quartet,” this unites an unlikely foursome and manages to let them all land powerful punches.
Smart, entertaining and honest, “One Night in Miami” arrives at a time when questions need to be asked. It offers answers, too, but doesn’t provide easy outs. Able to make alpha males seem like they really can be this open, King is on the brink of greatness, just like Clay.