Pop Culture

Reviews For The Uneasily Quarantined:
One Night In Miami

Title: One Night in Miami

Describe This Movie In One Malcolm X Quote:

MALCOLM X: You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.
Brief Plot Synopsis: When they were kings.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 4 Cleveland Browns helmets out of 5.

Tagline: "Four legends. One legendary night."

Better Tagline: "My dinner with Ali."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Following his defeat of Sonny Liston in February, 1964, Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) hangs out in a Miami hotel room with friends Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.), and spiritual adviser Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) to discuss — among other things — the future and the state of the world.

"Critical" Analysis: One Night in Miami is a fictionalized version of a meeting between some of the most iconic figures in African-American history, and director Regina King and writer Kemp Powers (adapting his own play) do a remarkable job getting to the men behind the myths.

On the night in question, each character is at both a career peak and crossroads. Clay is the newly crowned heavyweight champ ... and also about to convert to Islam. Brown is NFL's greatest player ... but also chafing under white ownership. Sam Cooke is a pop superstar ... grappling with his place in the civil rights movement. Malcolm X is that movement's most recognizable figure next to MLK ... but is on the verge of leaving the Nation of Islam.

Over the course of the film, each man will confront his legacy in different ways. Clay and Brown, for example, have opposing views on the lengths of their respective athletic careers. It's a foreboding element, considering what eventually happens to both men in real life.

They also deal with questions of mortality, no small concern in that era (or this one) for Black men. Malcolm X is the most sanguine about this, and Ben-Adir captures his character's (justified) paranoia as well as his inimitable speaking style. X would be dead within three months of this evening. Cooke, perhaps the least at risk physically of the three, would die before the year was over.

Naturally, there are conflicts. X takes Cooke to task for not using his platform for more than silly love songs, while Cooke points out his label provides support to African-American artists. Clay, as Goree plays him, is as impetuous (and obnoxious) as you'd expect a 22-year old who just happens to be the greatest boxer on earth to be.

He's also the source of One Night in Miami's scattered humorous moments (though Hodge's Brown does exasperated indignation quite well). For even though we find these men at high points in their lives, the weight and obligation — not always of the welcome variety — of their fame are impossible to ignore.

Likewise, the threat of society against even these famous African-Americans can't be overlooked. Taking place as it does during the height of the Civil Rights era, the menace presented by white America is (until the end) mostly implied. G-Men stalk Malcolm X, while even the celebrated Cooke doesn't escape professional abuse. An initially affable encounter between Brown and a former coach, played by Beau Bridges, ends on such a casually ugly note it still stings to recall.

One Night in Miami is Regina King's feature directorial debut, but you wouldn't know it to watch it. By turns forceful, contemplative, and sobering, it provides more depth and insight into these characters in a scant two hours than some TV series manage in ten years.

One Night in Miami is in select theaters. It debuts on Amazon Prime next week.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar