Released: 8th January
Seen: 22nd January
Sometimes an idea doesn’t have to be complex to be effective, it can be as simple as “Let’s throw a bunch of people in a room and see what happens” and it’ll create something fascinating. We’ve seen this in film all the time, one of the first examples I remember is a little film called Murder by Death which asked what’d happen if a bunch of fictional detectives were thrown together and tasked with solving a murder. It’s a fun way to work, to try and figure out what would happen with big personalities being put into a pressure cooker and having to interact. Of course, this can also be used to create a serious work that’s designed to grab the audience and shake them up a little bit… enter One Night In Miami.
One Night In Miami, based on the stage play of the same name by Kemp Powers, is set in 1963 and theorises what would happen in a hotel room meeting between Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.). The result is a long conversation about everything that was important at the time, from the civil rights movement to how the culture at the time reacted to these four men to the big turning points in all their lives, since this was so early in their careers that Muhammad Ali was still known as Cassius Clay.
Expertly directed by Regina King, this is one of those stage play adaptations that elevates the material well beyond the stage. Yes, there are some moments when you can almost see how this would be done on a stage, but that will happen when an entire film is set in a hotel room where there are limited angles to work with but Regina found every possible angle to work this from and uses her camera and her actors like nothing else.
Every single actor gives their all, creating performances that are so specific that they feel so specific and have so much chemistry that even at 2 hours you don’t ever feel bored. We’re watching these iconic men having some of the most fascinating conversations and it’s enthralling, from talking about Muhammad Ali’s conversion to Islam to Sam Cooke talking about how he’s dealing with working in the industry at a time when he needs to have a white man around to book hotels just in case. Oh yeah, if you’re uncomfortable with long difficult discussions about race… well, too bad, listen anyway because it’s important and so obscenely well done in this movie.
It’s well done because the script by Kemp Powers is obscenely perfect, which shouldn’t be a shock from a man who co-wrote Soul, and never slows down. For a film entirely set in a single hotel (except for the opening scene which basically is there to show the audience where each of these characters is in their lives and careers) it never feels like they’re padding or forcing anything. It’s just a stunning display of talent from top to bottom, you’re given the honour of just getting to relax and enjoy the show because you’re in the best hands imaginable.
One Night In Miami is so good that it makes me stunned that no one thought to try and make this film sooner. Everyone here is at the top of their game and creating an engaging, creative and important piece of art that I won’t be shocked if we’re talking about again when they finally do the awards season (seriously, if Regina King isn’t nominated for her work alone, we riot). I would gladly spend as many nights in Miami as possible if it was with this crew.