James Jay Edwards

One Night in Miami… Fictionalizes One Historic Meeting

(L-R) Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Aldis Hodge star in One Night in Miami…, Amazon Studios

James Jay Edwards reviews One Night in Miami…, a film that imagines the historic meeting of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. (Amazon Prime)

 

On the night of February 25, 1964, four celebrated African American celebrities spent the evening in a hotel room hanging out, eating ice cream, and talking. The exact conversations that were had are not public knowledge, but that didn’t stop playwright Kemp Powers (who also wrote Soul) from dramatizing them on stage. And now, with the help of director Regina King (The Finest), One Night in Miami… is a movie.

One Night in Miami… takes place right after boxer Cassius Clay (Riverdale’s Eli Goree), who would later change his name to Muhammad Ali, beat Sonny Liston for the World Heavyweight Title. Instead of celebrating his victory out on the town, Clay goes back to the hotel room of civil rights leader Malcolm X (The Commuter’s Kingsley Ben-Adir), along with pop singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr. from Hamilton) and NFL running back-turned-action movie star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge from The Invisible Man). The four cultural heroes discuss, among several other topics, politics, race relations, and their roles as influential figures to the youth of America.

 

(One Night in Miami…, official poster, Courtesy of Amazon Studios)

Predictably, One Night in Miami… unfolds much like a stage play. Some of the events are depicted in flashbacks or cutaways, but the movie is, essentially, four men hanging out in a room talking. Those men being icons in their respective fields is what makes the movie watchable. The writing is sharp, so the normally bland setup turns out to be very engaging.

The fact that the cast is charismatic helps, too. While none of the actors bears much more than a passing resemblance to his character in real life, the audience buys into the fact that these are the men they are portraying because each actor commands it. The performances are top-notch. By the end, Kingsley Ben-Amir IS Malcolm X, at least in the eyes of the audience.

 

(One Night in Miami…, Courtesy of Amazon Studios)

For a movie that is made up mostly of conversations, One Night in Miami… has more than its share of powerful moments. One occurs at the beginning of the film, with Jim Brown going to visit an old (white) acquaintance/mentor in his hometown. Brown is already an NFL star, and his old friend is happy to see him as they sip lemonade on the porch. Then, his friend’s wife asks her husband with help moving a piece of furniture. Jim offers to assist, but his “friend” won’t let him inside the house. He turns down the help of a professional athlete with a physical task because of the color of his skin.

And then, there’s Sam Cooke’s story about a song by his friend Bobby Womack, “It’s All Over Now,” which went to number 94 on the charts. A short time later, The Rolling Stones recorded a version of it that went to number 1. Cooke talks about his friend making money off of the white boys for a change, and while the line gets a laugh, it’s a very serious concept. An inferior version of the same song sung by Caucasians climbed higher on the charts. It’s an entertaining story, but it also raises an important point.

 

(One Night in Miami…, Courtesy of Amazon Studios)

One Night in Miami… is as much about civil rights as a movie about Malcom X is bound to be. But it’s more than just four angry black men sitting around complaining about the Man. The discussions, observations, and even arguments that occur in that hotel room are perceptive and revelatory, perhaps even a bit prophetic. It’s not for everyone. Fans of action or suspense movies (such as those that made up the film career of the real Jim Brown) will be bored silly. But those who like a well-crafted drama with plenty of inter-character tension will be all in. And everyone might even learn something before the credits roll.

One Night in Miami… is streaming on Amazon Prime.

 

 

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