REVIEW: How entertaining would four men sitting in a Miami hotel room, discussing and debating on a range of issues that affect their lives be? Turns out a lot, especially if the four men in question are Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). Based on Kemp Powers’ screenplay that is in turn adapted from his own one-act stage play of the same name, ‘One Night in Miami’ establishes debutante Regina King’s directorial genius right from the word go. The film opens with an action-packed scene in the boxing ring, featuring the underdog Cassius Clay, who later became the boxing legend Muhammad Ali.It’s 25th February 1964, and Clay is fresh from the victory of becoming the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. On the same night, Clay is cooped up in a hotel room with political activist Malcolm X, NFL star Jim Brown and singer-musician Sam Cooke. But before all the verbal action unfolds between the four men inside the room, we’re shown their individual experiences that shape the narrative. These consecutive scenes not only introduce us to the characters but also break the visual monotony of the screenplay that’s cooped up in a hotel room, for most part.
As the men start talking to each other, King’s carefully curated fictional account, deftly underlines their inner conflicts. They are some the most famous men of their time in populist fields of sports, music and social activism and yet their existential struggle is real. The two key ingredients that power this fictionalised exchange are the unrestricted yet restrained performances and the witty, impactful dialogues, full of quotable quotes.
Gathered at the Hampton House Motel – a black tourist haven in Miami, the men are there to celebrate Clay’s win over boxing legend Liston, but instead of a party with booze and girls, they are treated to vanilla ice-cream and a heated debate. However, the result is anything but vanilla. As Clay puts it, all four of them are, “young, black, righteous, unapologetic and famous.” There’s as much fun to be had in their banter and bickering, while being emotionally aware of their stark reality and the fact that at least two of these characters would soon meet their untimely end.
Performance wise, all four actors come together as a single unit, each playing their complex characters with ease. Despite the differences in their characters and among them, as actors, they come off as one team. Decades later, their conversations about fitting in and inclusion are still relevant and that is a sad reality (read #BlackLivesMatter).
Regina King’s directorial debut may be visually confined and certainly not meant for mass entertainment, but the dialogue it initiates, is limitless. With her sharp storytelling skills, Regina gives us a seasoned exchange between important men (of colour), who steered the narrative of America’s cultural and civil rights movement.
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