Just a quick one today, as we weren’t initially planning on covering this film, but it’s too good not to talk about.
One Night in Miami, the feature directorial debut from Regina King (Watchmen, If Beale Street Could Talk), is a stunning achievement that immortalises a key period of the 1960s civil rights movement. King takes real-life figureheads that we’ve seen countless times on the big screen – take Muhammad Ali (here Cassius Clay) and Malcolm X, for example – yet breathes fresh air into them and creates a truly captivating film that flies past and challenges such key figures with a modern-day lens.
Perhaps King’s best decision here is to really focus in on the four main characters: Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.). Instead of a sprawling, biopic-esque scan over their entire careers, King – as the title suggests – hones in on one specific night, after Clay’s 1964 fight against Sonny Liston, portraying a series of fictional interactions that both grip you and challenge your stance on these men and their relationship with the civil rights movement.
It’s a film anchored by two utterly stunning lead performances: Ben-Adir is truly incredible as Malcolm X, not only looking exactly like him but exuding the same level of control and precision as X himself did. It’s a confident performance from Ben-Adir that is sure to put him on an international pedestal now – and don’t be shocked when you see his name in the awards conversation next year. Goree is the other standout here as Cassius Clay, with a vibrant, spritely performance encapsulating the youthful exuberance of a pre-Ali Clay – and for a film so rooted in dialogue and themes, the action-style boxing scenes are executed impeccably.
And when One Night in Miami focuses on dialogue and debate between the four – all of which have pretty different views on black liberation and their own versions of ‘equality’ – it’s a truly magnificent watch. The script – penned by Kemp Powers, the writer of the play this film adapts – is so rich with detail that it demands a second watch, and every interaction – from Malcolm X debating Sam Cooke about his contribution to the effort to Jim Brown’s meeting with an old family friend – is so intensely watchable and captivating. This is of course aided by great direction from King, who knows exactly what to hone in on – what to show, and what to leave for the audience to decide. A lot of the conversations also feel particularly relevant given recent events regarding race in America, culminating in a film that is not only a brilliant capsule of such a fascinating period of history, but is also eerily timely.
It’s been a good year at London Film Festival so far, and One Night in Miami is certainly one of the best films we’ve got out of it this year. It’s an important and delicate fictionalised look at one of history’s most interesting eras, and immortalises some truly legendary figures in a unique and hugely entertaining way.