To emit: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr, Eli Goree
director: Regina King
Classification: 4 stars (out of 5)
(This review is based on a virtual screening of the film at the 45th Hybrid Toronto International Film Festival)
Regina King, who won an Oscar in 2019 for her performance in If Beale Street could talk and is arguably one of the best American actresses in the business, making her directorial debut with One night in Miami … What a spectacular first film this is – a poignant and vibrant piece of film that entertains and excites even as it tackles pressing issues with rigorous fairness.
Working from a brilliant Kemp Powers script (adapted from his own play of the same name), King uses a 1964 fictional reunion in a Miami motel room of four real-life African-American super achievers to whisper a Black Power drama. . she alternates between donning velvet gloves and walking bare-knuckled, making the most of both.
One night in Miami … is a reinvention of a poignant call to action in a crucial era of the American civil rights movement. It is likewise a constantly penetrating rumination on race dynamics that has instant contemporary resonance in the Black Lives Matter era.
The writing is fascinating, the acting is top-notch, and the fluid energy that comes from the clash of worldviews is fascinating and exhilarating. The four men are famous people who might have been tempted to feel they have the power to resist racial profiling and get ahead in life without hindrance. But do they do it? Or, if they do, can they afford not to think about those who don’t? That is the main speech in the heart of One night in Miami …
As the crucial night unfolds, they face questions and seek answers. Understandably, the process is not painless. He pushes them before an inner mirror that reflects aspects of the truth that they cannot ignore. Fame, wealth, and success may allow you to set yourself apart, but nothing can make up for a story of humiliation.
Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), arrogant 22-year-old boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), soul singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and NFL superstar Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) rallied to celebrate Clay’s victory over Sonny Liston, which earned him the title of heavyweight champion of the world.
The party the four friends have is not exactly a boisterous, drunken spectacle of triumphant excess. Malcolm won’t accept any of that. Sam wonders what he’s doing at a party where the beer is off limits. Cassius Clay is happy dancing around the mirror admiring his face. You have good reason to be cheerful. He is the best dog in the fiercely competitive world of professional boxing.
It becomes an occasion for soul-searching and saber-rattling as men argue over the impediments they face due to the color of their skin, and friendly banter occasionally gives way to bouts of blunt recrimination. Malcolm, Cassius, Sam, and Jim have company. It is the elephant in the room that wreaks havoc around them, catching them off guard and bringing out their innermost fears and misgivings as the night progresses.
Before the ideological tumult begins to unfold, the film provides an introduction to the minds of the four men. Malcolm has a hard time convincing his wife that everything will work out for the couple and their daughters.
Cassius Clay (who is not Muhammad Ali yet), in a 1963 fight against Henry Cooper at London’s Wembley Park, hits the mat after a knockout punch, but nothing can force him to part with his arrogance and rhetoric.
Singer-songwriter Sam Cooke has to overcome his own challenges as he performs at New York’s Copacabana to an all-white audience. “You will never be loved by the men you are trying to win over,” Malcolm tells Sam later in the film over the course of a debate that threatens to cross the line of politeness.
And tall, stocky footballer Jim Brown finds himself on the receiving end of deep-rooted racism in the Deep South. A white man (Beau Bridges in a cameo) is all sugar and honey when he welcomes Jim to his porch, but has no qualms about saying “you’re a credit to the state” and then immediately afterwards, preventing him from entering. to the house. because “we don’t allow blacks in the house.”
That’s where the United States of A was back then. Has it moved an inch in all these years? The phrases that fly among men, often angry and animated, have a topical tone despite the five and a half decades that have elapsed since then.
King creates a precisely dimensioned canvas in which the four friends stand out as vivid figures who are fighting the same good fight, but differ in how and what they think about their American status. None of the four is like the other three.
Malcolm is this serious-minded civil rights activist who is going through difficult times due to his growing disillusionment with the movement. Cassius is the blatantly boastful boxer who talks about the virtues of the Gorgeous George fighter who “struts and struts like a peacock.” Sam Cooke is an R&B artist who justifiably relies on his talent, but is never sure if that is enough to earn him the right to be prominent in the music industry. Jim Brown seems to be the calmest of all, but when he has a pow-wow with Malcolm after the latter has had a run-in with Sam, he makes his voice count.
Every man finds himself at a crucial moment in his life. Cassius is about to embrace Islam and a new name. Jim is about to finish his football career and join the movies. Malcolm is a year away from his murder and Sam has even less time.
The two men were shot for very different reasons, Sam at the end of the same year, Malcolm on February 19, 1965. The cracks that develop in their friendship over the course of the night: The two men are determined to look at each other. other. – is plagued with deep pathos.
The performances of the main actors are the pillars on which the film sits. It’s easy to see how conducive the setup is for actors when the decision maker is also an actor. Regina King brings out the best in her cast.
Ben-Adir exudes poise and toughness. Goree provides a perfect contrast to its glitz and flair, conveying the irrepressible flamboyance of a Cassius Clay on the go. Hodge and Odom Jr. are no less in the game, conveying the confusion of the times without missing a beat.
They constitute an elegant quartet that, together with the director’s unwavering hand over the film, makes One night in Miami … an unforgettable portrait of a period of struggle that has extended to the present day.