... struggles to push itself outside of the boundaries of the original stage play
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI (2021)
One Night in Miami is the directorial debut of Regina King, adapted from the stage play of the same name. Based on a real-life meeting of Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Malcom X, and Sam Cooke, it’s a fictionalised account of what may have taken place that evening.
Although a gorgeous looking film, it unfortunately struggles to push itself outside of the boundaries of the original stage play, instead at many points feeling like a filmed piece of theatre. Rather than leaning into the new medium, it instead feels as if it is tiptoeing the line between the two.
For the most part, the film is set in an enclosed hotel room as we watch four men talk, discuss, and evaluate all manner of things. When the tensions are high, we feel it, but when the energy is low, we unfortunately feel that too.
Adapted for the screen by the original playwright Kemp Powers (who also co-wrote the script for the 2020 Pixar film Soul), the film tells an interesting story but struggled to fully engage me for the whole runtime. It’s clear to see how powerful a piece this would be on stage, however as a film it never feels like it completely fills the screen, and I often found my mind wandering.
Part of this however may be completely my own fault. I like to go into films with as open a mind as possible, with no research and when possible even avoiding the trailer. This was not the film for that. Historical context is really important for the story. As someone who isn’t a sports fan, I wasn’t even aware until the final moments of the film that the character Cassius was in fact Mohammad Ali. Not knowing the context of who these men became and the things they encountered after this night, I found it tough to engage with the narrative. The arguments between the four men were pitched well, but overall, I needed more tension or excitement.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The performances are truly excellent. Four men, who if you haven’t heard of them by now, you’ll be hearing a lot more of in the next few years. Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr. all bring unique portrayals to these four very different men, and even during lulls of the script, they keep their energy brewing so when the inevitable arguments and disputes hit, we’re rewarded with powerful sparks of chemistry.
Odom Jr.’s Sam Cooke is the most engaging and relatable, an infectious charm throughout; but all four deserve the high praise they are receiving during the run up to awards season.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Visually beautiful, the film mostly takes place in one hotel room. It feels entirely of the time, and every corner is well designed to allow the camera to make use of every inch of space. Lighting is used to allow this small space to feel like multiple locations dependent on the mood shift, and the use of costume also tells us all we need to know about our cast of characters.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
A standout moment in the film involves a flashback of Leslie Odom Jr’s Sam Cooke performing at a concert acapella. Any film involving a famous musician should automatically have good music, but this scene in particular feels like something particularly special.
One Night in Miami is by no doubts a good film that will find an audience, and I imagine awards praise. It just didn’t spark for me. If, like me, you don’t have the best knowledge of American history, I highly recommend doing some prior reading before clicking play – it’ll make the entire piece that much more meaningful.
Amazon Studios will release ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI... in select US theaters on January 8th, 2021 and on Prime Video January 15th, 2021