One Night in Miami (2020)

“I think this would be a wonderful chance to reflect on what happened tonight.”

Over the course of the captivating and expertly calculated One Night in Miami, four cultural titans get a safe space in Miami’s famous Hampton House to speak freely. To cleanly throw a few jabs at friends and lend a few open ears to those willing to listen, and the end result is worth the hassle of checking in and out with this much baggage for such a temporary stay. This is a painfully timely, engrossing, momentous movie, and undoubtedly one of 2020’s best and most personal pictures. I honestly believe it’s just shy of what I’d consider cinematic mastery. A more lasting final and direct shot might have propelled it there.

We’re in 1963. Thousands gather to watch the up-and-comer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) duck and dodge and deliver blows during his boxing bout. Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) looks to take the Copa’s stage, performing to an all white audience. Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) visits a family friend at a Georgia plantation, greeted by fresh lemonade laced with a toxic twist of deeply instilled and casually overt racism. And finally Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) is introduced to us through a proselytizing broadcast in his own living room, only to see the preaching man on the screen walk through the front door hoping to tuck in his children and avoid the questioning from his wife. All four paths converge into one, and the opening is simply as good as it gets. I can’t imagine how the first 15 minutes could’ve possibly been improved upon.

Contained yet never completely confined to one space or ideological way of thinking, One Night in Miami is a democratic depiction of cultural icons, and it builds their legacies and mythology on top of one another – as most minority experiences are forced to do – and evolves into a towering totem pole displaying the disparate hearts central to their movement. Kemp Powers’ script is an organic, tangible, malleable version of Mt. Rushmore, and it resonates because these are stories with great weight. These are the stories that matter. They’re never set in stone; they’re captured, too briefly, and are there to inspire the next faces to be emblazoned on the visage. The film knows that. The poster shows that. The actors embody that line of thinking. It’s pretty much the complete package.

One Night in Miami is not a film I loved, but it’s undeniably one of the year’s best, and I really believe this deeply honest and considerate portrait of black excellence – both displayed on camera and captured by the remarkable directorial debut from Regina King – demands respect for that reason and so much more. This is a touchstone, a teaching point, the kind of engaging and evocative film that can be shown in American History classes around the country without putting kids to sleep like so many of them do (I’m talking to you, A Man For All Seasons.) At the end of the day though, One Night In Miami exudes such great personal pride while also acknowledging rampant prejudice, and makes for a viewing experience that’s stirring, stoic, and an incredibly soulful endeavor. This one is specific for then, adaptable to now, and foreseeable for tomorrow. That’s the sign of a great film.

“Power just means a world where we’re safe to be ourselves. To look like we want. To think like we want. Without having to answer to anybody for it.”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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