It has been clear for a while that Regina King was headed for feature film direction, and she found a great and compelling subject in the historic night in 1964 when Cassius Clay (soon to be Mohammad Ali), Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown spent the evening together after Clay defeated Sonny Liston at the Miami Convention Hall. Screenwriter and playwright Kemp Powers adapted his award-winning play and King populated her film with a powerhouse cast that shines both individually and as an ensemble.
It’s hard to single out one performer in One Night in Miami that stands above the rest, because while all the co-leads inhabit their characters well, their portrayals are most fully formed in their interactions with each other. Leslie Odom Jr so fully channels Sam Cooke that you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart vocally when Odom Jr takes the stage and sings Cooke’s songs. Though it’s Odom Jr who is getting all the awards buzz, it’s Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X that will most impress. He plays him with passion, and vibrates with nearly the level of magnetism that made Malcolm X such an indelible 20th Century figure. One speech in particular should have Oscar voters’ tongues wagging. It can’t be easy to play Muhammad Ali, given all the idiosyncratic qualities the famed boxer was known for, but Eli Goree definitely captures his flamboyant spirit, while at the same time making him a grounded, flesh-and-blood man with emotions, dreams, and ambitions that will make him relatable to viewers. Fans of Aldis Hodge, many of whom have championed him since his time on the show Leverage, will once again see the actor stretching and showing a new side as the quietly powerful Jim Brown. Together, these four performers show what supporting and holding space for each other can create in terms of ensemble work.
For the review in its entirety, go to AWFJ.org HERE.