A night where Ali was fighting was probably already exciting. But what takes place in this movie between the legendary boxer and three others was extraordinary.
“One Night in Miami” is set in 1964 and mostly takes place after Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) wins the heavyweight title. Following the fight, Clay meets up with activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and NFL running back Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). On top of celebrating Clay’s win, the night also marks a turning point, where the champ is going to announce that he’s joining the Nation of Islam.
Clay’s decision then sparks debate and conversations between the four men about politics, the Civil Rights Movement and the extent to which artists and athletes should get involved. The movie features the four both finding common ground and having complete disagreements.
“One Night in Miami” is based on a stageplay, and while it is somewhat noticeable at times, it’s not at all a hindrance. There’s room to breathe here, thanks to strong technical work to give the film a cinematic feel and constantly evolving discussions between the four characters.
This all comes under the direction of Regina King, who made her feature film directorial debut with this. Her work is impeccable, bringing these larger than life figures to the screen and exploring their humanity in an intimate setting without it feeling too constrained.
This is definitely a dialogue heavy film, but it’s hard to ever get bored with what’s going on. In one scene, the back-and-forth between characters is a game of one-upsmanship, in another, it’s an attempt to find common ground, and in some, it’s a full on debate.
The way these conversations sway back and forth from being about their personal lives to the macro level with words about the Civil Rights movement is captivating.
This is all certainly aided by the script by Kemp Powers, who wrote the original play, too. It’s very sharp writing, packed with passion and commentary. Most importantly, though, the writing makes these character feel down to Earth and real.
As a result, an audience can appreciate the characters’ feelings when they share vulnerabilities or laugh when they make jokes.
Another element making this work is the cast. The performers of the four main figures do phenomenal work in bringing them to life. Each actor brings dignity to their role with convincing work, ensuring that their characters feel like real people and not just the legendary figures many remember.
Goree is especially good as Clay, impressively capturing the big personality of the great boxer. That doesn’t mean he steals the show, though. The whole movie is a showcase of strong acting all around, with each of the main four being impressive.
At times the source material is a little too noticeable in “One Night.” Characters sometimes leave the room suddenly as if they’re exiting the stage, and it feels a bit odd in a film format.
Despite this, and the movie’s opening being a little slow, this is still a great movie and one of 2020’s top features. The acting and writing is superb and King brings it together nicely with her direction. 4.85 out of 5.