Our Review

         Movie:  ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI...

          Rating:  R, language throughout

                         Length: 1:54

           Release Date: January 08, 2021

Jeanne: In 1964, at the Hampton House Motel in Overtown, Florida, near Miami --- after Cassius Clay had just defeated Sonny Liston for the first time --- four friends, all icons in their own right, come together for a celebration of Clay’s victory. Written by Kemp Powers, who also penned the award-winning play of the same name --- and directed by Regina King, in her directorial debut, ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI…is a fictional account of that historic meeting.

 

Clay (Eli Goree), who would soon become Muhammad Ali, has just done the unthinkable. As an underdog, he has beaten his opponent, Liston, to become the new heavyweight champion. His spiritual advisor, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), was at the fight, along with singer/songwriter/entre-

preneur, Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and Cleveland Browns star running back, Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). Now they have gathered in Malcolm X’s hotel room in what becomes a night of conversation about religion, racial injustice and the roles each have in the civil rights movement.

 

This is one of my favorite types of movies --- dialogue driven with superb writing and acting. Powers’ screenplay is audacious --- filled with hope, love and a lot of anger. And almost 60 years later, these conversations are more relevant than ever.

 

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI… proves once again just how complacent white people have become. In the opening scene, Jim Brown, on his way to Miami, stops to see a Mr. Carlton (Beau Bridges) at his lovely Southern home. He lavishly praises Jim for all his professional football achievements while they sip lemonade on the veranda. But when Jim offers to help him move a piece of furniture, Mr. Carlton replies, “Now you know, Jim, we don’t allow niggers in the house.”. It’s one of the harshest reminders of the sin of inequality --- stated so matter-of-factly. I wanted to throw up. 

The four main players, Goree, Ben-Adir, Odom, Jr. and Hodge are so perfectly cast. King and the producers were very specific about their desires for just the right actors --- and they were truly successful. Each of these men researched their legendary characters with a relentless thoroughness.

 

Goree showed up for his audition in full Cassius Clay mode, Ben-Adir kept up his Malcolm persona throughout filming, Odom, Jr. has the chops and the voice to be Cooke and Hodge possesses the physique to portray Jim Brown. Together these four actors embody each of these legends with a dedication necessary to make ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI… --- and director King --- a huge success.

 

Like all exceptional films, music plays an extremely important role. Six-time Grammy winning composer Terence Blanchard is responsible for the score. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, instead of using a larger ensemble indicative of that period, King and editor Tari Anwar had the idea of utilizing just a piano. It turns out brilliantly. And then there is Sam Cooke’s civil rights composition “A Change is Gonna Come”, which Odom, Jr. sings at the end of the movie. It’s an incredibly powerful moment --- and a song which still resonates today.

 

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI… is a truly dynamic depiction of what possibly took place amongst four very dear friends on a single night in 1964. Each of their lives changed so much after that, with Jim Brown the only one alive today. But King and her crew have given us a glimpse into what might have been.

in select US theaters on January 8th, 2021 and on Prime Video January 15th, 2021

Opinion: Strong See It Now!

David: On February 25, 1964, a brash young boxer from Louisville, Kentucky shocked the boxing world and all sports fans in general by scoring a TKO against then heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Cassius Clay was 22 years old and the cocky, handsome prize fighter would go on to be one of the greatest boxers in history.

 

But this night and this movie, ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI…, centers on the post-fight celebration when Clay (Eli Goree) and three prominent Black figures meet in a motel room north of Miami. Joining Clay are activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), NFL star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.). What starts as jovial repartee among the four notables evolves into intense and heated discussions about the roles of Black celebrities in a racially divided America.

 

While Malcolm X and Cassius Clay are the lead characters in this mostly fictional get-together directed by Regina King, all four have their moments to make salient points about Blacks in America in 1964. Remember this was before President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. In fact, the foursome meets in a motel room in Overtown, Florida which is a haven for Blacks ostracized by the Jim Crow segregation laws enforced in Miami at the time.

 

Malcolm gets the evening started by declaring he has provided ice cream for the guys. After Clay, Brown and Cooke --- they wanted to party at a local bar --- finish guffawing, one of them asks Malcolm what flavors he’s purchased. The first carton is vanilla, and the second is --- also vanilla. That’s pretty much the extent of the humor in ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI…, and it’s also the beginning of some soul-searching among the men.

King and screenwriter Kemp Powers --- he wrote the script based on his award-winning play of the same name --- don’t hold any punches in a story that still resonates today, over 50 years later. Powers, by the way, co-wrote and co-directed the current animated hit SOUL from Pixar.

 

Cooke experiences racism up close and personal early in the film when he goes on stage at the Copa Cabana and several white couples exit the venue. One of the best scenes in the movie occurs when Cooke, following a very exuberant live performance by Jackie Wilson (Jeremy Pope), is abandoned by his band after Wilson cuts the power to the mics, and Cooke is left alone on stage. Not to be denied, Sam wins over the all-Black audience with an improvised performance of his own.

 

Malcolm X, a member of the Nation of Islam for many years and the one who recruits Cassius Clay, leading to his new name of Muhammad Ali, announces he is leaving the Nation to form his own Muslim organization and he hopes Clay follows him. At this point, the extreme high of Cassius defeating Liston is lost. Clay feels that Malcolm has used his fame and popularity to build further support for the Nation. Brown, in a relatively small role, asserts later in the motel room that the key to eliminating inequality in the races is through economic standing.

 

If you are thinking that a movie that takes place primarily in a motel room is merely a static event, I am here to tell you that ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI… is a searing drama that will have most viewers riveted to the screen. The acting is universally solid and will make a bigger star out of Ben-Adir.

 

Goree turns in an immaculate performance as Clay from both a boxing standpoint and as a fast-talking, publicity-seeking loudmouth who can be quietly thoughtful and retrospective. For the record, Clay was a hero of mine from the time I was introduced to him in a column by a Boston sportswriter who dubbed him the “Louisville Lip”.

 

Odom, Jr. is a huge musical talent. He won a Tony as Best Actor in a Broadway musical for “Hamilton”. Nevertheless, the actor modified his singing to try to emulate the real Sam Cooke’s style, and according to the filmmakers he did so emphatically. 

The supporting cast features Beau Bridges in a cameo as a Southern racist who pretends to be a big fan of Jim Brown until he tells Brown he can’t come into his home because --- insert the “N” word --- are not allowed inside. Michael Imperioli of “The Sopranos” fame plays Clay’s long-time manager Angelo Dundee. I’ve always felt Imperioli possesses a great screen presence in whatever role he assumes.

 

The tragedies that will soon befall Malcolm X and Sam Cooke are not part of this screenplay other than a closing-credits mention of Malcolm’s assassination almost a year later. Of course, Ali went on to lead a productive life and was one of the most recognizable people on the planet. Brown went on to star in over 50 TV and film roles after abruptly leaving the NFL at age 29.

 

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI… is King’s feature film debut and is undeniably one of the best movies of 2020.

in select US theaters on January 8th, 2021 and on Prime Video January 15th, 2021

Opinion: Strong See It Now!