One Night in Miami ...
2020, R, 110 min. Directed by Regina King. Starring Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Joaquina Kalukango, Nicolette Robinson, Beau Bridges.
REVIEWED By Selome Hailu, Fri., Jan. 8, 2021
One Night in Miami begins with a jaunty plunking of the piano under a series of cartoonish jeers and jokes from Muhammad Ali (Goree), then still called Cassius Clay. He hops through the boxing ring, confident of a win he hasn’t yet clinched, before a punch to the face lands him flat on his rear, wide-eyed and defeated.
As Malcolm X, Ben-Adir is perhaps the film’s greatest strength. He reveals the quiet fear that must have been necessary to sustain Malcolm’s hallmark militance, and crafts masterful friction between his revolutionary public persona and the tenderness he tries to offer his friends. Tension explodes between Malcom and Sam especially, which sets up a careful structure for the rest of the film. In a natural sequence, the characters pair off in different combinations for private conversations. These moments, marked by sheepish confessions and washed in warm yellows and oranges, are where One Night in Miami achieves its major goals. Though Malcolm, Sam, Cassius, and Jim are all devoted to collective Black liberation in different ways, the movement demands a lot from a person. In private, they express the subjectivity that no one else has afforded them, making tangible meaning of the kind of “brotherhood” that Malcom X spoke of just days before his assassination.
One Night in Miami offers humility and vulnerability to four men that history has rendered as giants. In the film’s heartrending final moments, Odom Jr. gives a career-defining performance of Cooke’s 1964 classic “A Change is Gonna Come.” And you believe him – it’s clear that each man will go on to move mountains in this country. But the warmth of the film’s gaze has managed to take the political and make it all personal. It’s hard not to feel just as affected by the way these men have moved each other.