- "One Night in Miami" is a powerful debut for actress Regina King as a director.
- Based on a play, the story revolves around the fictional meeting between Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke after Clay won the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston in 1964.
- The movie captures amazing performances, especially by Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Cooke.
- "One Night in Miami" had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday. It will be released later this year on Amazon.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
There are some movies that are done so well and with so much passion you know it's going to receive high praise on Hollywood's biggest night. And that certainly feels like it will be the case with "One Night in Miami."
This movie has Oscar contender written all over it.
The feature directorial debut of actress Regina King ("Watchmen"), King has certainly picked the right movie to come out of the gate with.
Based on the stage play by Kemp Powers, who also wrote the movie's screenplay, we are thrust back to February 25, 1964. The date is significant because, on that night, Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight boxing championship of the world in Miami Beach, Florida.
But if you take a closer look, the date is not just a landmark date in sports but is smack dab in the middle of the civil rights movement that would not just shape the life of Clay, but a trio of others.
"One Night in Miami" looks at a fictional event that takes place after Clay knocked out Liston. Four figures who shape the movement — Clay, Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke, and football star/actor Jim Brown — come together in a hotel room in Miami where they discuss the world they live in, their legacy, and race.
The importance of having all these men in the same room together on this date is what will follow in their real lives:
- Days after the fight, Clay converts to Islam and changes his name to Muhammad Ali, leading to him becoming one of the most vocal critics of social injustice for the rest of his life.
- Malcolm X is assassinated a year after the fight.
- Sam Cooke is shot and killed 10 months after the fight.
- Jim Brown retires from football in 1966, partly over a dispute with the Cleveland Brown's owner over skipping training camp to make "The Dirty Dozen."
What Powers did with his play is the ultimate "what if" by getting all these outspoken crusaders in the same room. They hash out their differences over their beliefs and finally come to an understanding with each other and themselves.
What King does is elevate Powers' work into the movie form with rich locations and an atmosphere that matches the powerful performances delivered by Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Eli Goree as Cassius Clay, Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke.
Why you should watch: The acting is explosive and it's some of the best writing I've seen in a movie this year
"One Night in Miami" is super structured and has limited locations. King certainly does this to keep the focus on her actors and what they are saying, which is the right choice because that's her movie's glue.
After we see Clay defeat Liston (high marks for Goree's performance as Clay, which is spot-on both in voice and mannerisms), we move to Malcolm X's hotel, which is located in the ratty area of Miami and guarded by the Nation of Islam security.
It's a daunting sight for Cooke, who is staying at one of Miami's high-end hotels thanks to his connections.
Things get good when the rest of the leads enter the room. Cooke, Brown, and Clay think they are going to celebrate in a room full of booze and girls, but Malcolm informs them that all he has to offer is some ice cream.
It leads to some side-eyes and eventually some heated words — Malcolm is going at Cooke for not using his celebrity enough to address the movement; Clay is conflicted with becoming a Muslim and feels betrayed when Malcolm reveals he's planning to leave the Nation; Brown tries to be the peacekeeper throughout but voices his concern that he's just being a tool for white football owners.
The interactions are perfectly acted but the standouts are Ben-Adir as Malcolm and Odom Jr. as Cooke. Their heated exchanges raise everyone's performances in the cramped hotel.
That's a testament to King's direction but also the incredible words by Powers. His script is certainly the best I've encountered so far this year.
Most standout performance in the movie: Leslie Odom Jr. brings it
If you've seen "Hamilton" you know that Leslie Odom Jr. is a major talent. But when playing Cooke, he is next level.
The passion he displays while trying to make Malcolm understand that he's working the system to better it for Black performers is thrilling to watch and the ending with the song he sings and the emotion he displays leaves you with a lump in your throat when the end credits hit.
The bottom line: Let the Oscar hype begin
The movie's greatest strength is having King at the helm as director. You need someone with a keen understanding of performances and subtleties to pull off a movie like this, and King has shown time and again in her career that she always performs at the highest caliber.
Chamber pieces can be boring, but this one isn't. That's another testament to King. She doesn't let things drag. When a change of location is needed, the action moves to a liquor store or the roof of the hotel. Though the words are from a stage work, thankfully King knows that the setting itself doesn't have to feel like the audience is watching a play.
Expect to hear a lot more about this movie as Oscar season hits. It's simply that great.
"One Night in Miami" had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and will be released by Amazon Studios later this year.
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