One Legendary Night With Four Legends

One Night in Miami is the stage-to-screen adaptation of the same title which is also the directorial debut of one Regina King. The story chronicles the fictional account of the night after Cassius Clay takes the Heavyweight boxing title where legends Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcom X all celebrate Cassius' win, but also discuss (and often argue) their roles in the Civil Rights Movement. The acting in this film carries it all the way through between four brilliantly cast actors to play these iconic historical figures. The screenplay is a very well-adapted stage-to-screen script which features very comic but oftentimes searing dialogue that is always incredibly well-delivered by the actors. The direction comes from a confident eye behind the camera who feels like someone who has multitudes of experience - you wouldn't know she was a greenhorn at all. Let's now dive beneath the surface of this wonderful adaptation of the Kemp Powers stageplay.

The Performances

The performances are beyond a shadow of a doubt the best aspect of this film. I would even venture to say this has one of the best ensemble casts in a film I've ever seen. Each actor from Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke to Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown, to Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X to Eli Goree as Muhammad Ali - they are all so well-cast. The performances are all on point; whether it be a great impersonation, they nail the mannerisms, or it's just straight up great dramatic acting or line readings - they all play their parts expertly well. That said, there is a stand-out here, and his name is Leslie Odom Jr. This is not to take away from how well the others acted - their performances are all great, to be sure. But, Leslie Odom Jr. is on another level here. His performance is Oscar-worthy and it seems the critics have been right all along. He very well could run away with this thing - his Best Supporting Actor Oscar is practically signed, sealed, and delivered. His dramatic acting, his delivery of lines, the fact that he actually sang (!), his comedic timing, and the controlling of emotions were all so impeccable. What I simply cannot get over is his singing voice; this may not be fair, but he stands out and runs away with it for that simple fact alone: he's got golden pipes. He also has tremendous charisma to boot. His chemistry with his other co-leads is palpable as well. As was the case with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, I mention in my review of that particular film that it was one of those adaptations from the stage to the screen which relies on the superb acting to carry it through. This is no exception here, but this is not to take away from the fact that the screenplay is mesmerizing as well, which brings me to my next point.

The Screenplay

The source material must have been stunning, considering the writing in the screenplay here. Luckily, Kemp Powers, who wrote the stage play, also adapted the screenplay of the film. It's worthy of noting, Kemp Powers is having a big year as he also co-wrote the screenplay for Pixar's Soul. He could also make Oscar history if both screenplays are nominated. Apparently, no one has ever been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay in the same year. What a tremendous feat for him, if it happens (I like his chances). As I alluded to earlier, the screenplay features hilarious and biting dialogue throughout the course of the film. The chemistry between the legends who were also friends at the time, is due in part to the wonderful performances, but also to the proficient writing on display here. The dialogue is oftentimes clever as it is also thanks to situational humor. The dialogue really shines when it's written to the character - they each have their own unique voice. And such is life, obviously. But it plays so well from scene-to-scene. This can also be thanks to Regina King's assured direction, but you need to have a strong script for any of this to work - even if you have such strong actors to work with, too. The dialogue HAS to carry the film because much of it is so contained and conversation-driven; such is almost always the case when dealing with a stage-to-screen adaptation. But, here I believe it works so well because the interactions between characters are so compelling, so powerful, and so entrancing that I was never taken out of it thinking, "oh, this feels so much like a play." This is not to say that I would be annoyed by that, but it is nice to know that you're in good hands even if it does feel like a play. I never felt that it was so obviously a play adaptation, nor did I care. It always felt so genuine to the characters and to their situations. We knew the stakes, and they couldn't be higher for any of them.

The Direction

I was a bit worried when I heard this would be Regina King's directorial debut. Don't get me wrong, I love her as a person and I love her work as an actress. However, I have been growing a little bit tired of the trend of all these actors making the transition from acting to wearing the director's hat. Not only that, typically you can tell when it's their first outing as a director, too. That, more often than not, results in a mixed bag, quality-wise. My worries quickly went away after watching the opening sequences. It felt like Regina King had been sitting in the director's chair for as long as any seasoned veteran. The directorial choices were never anything too complicated or out of the ordinary, but they were always effective in my eyes. I loved how she let scenes play out - she let the actors act. And that is exactly what one should do when dealing with an adaptation from the stage. As an actor, I'm sure this is exactly the type of treatment she would have wanted. So, as a director, she carries that wish over to her actors in working with them. You'll gain that type of experience and mindset when you've acted for as long as she has, no doubt. These scenes did not feature one-take cinematography quite like Ma Rainey did, but the scenes were patient and steady - it allowed the scene to play out for what it was. Seldom was there simple, basic, generic, bland shot/reverse shot, which I tend to roll my eyes at. Most of the time, the camera hangs on actors, hangs on reactions, or just simply hangs on the moment playing out. I enjoy that type of scene pacing in a film, and it works remarkably well here. As I said, this is exactly how it should be when going from stage to screen - let's see and hear the actors' dialogue, and see their reactions to one another. Let's see where the scene goes. Let's see the situation flow. Let's see the drama, the conflict, the banter - all of it, in one shot - and just hold on it. Thank you, Regina. I look forward to your next project(s).

The Verdict

Overall, One Night in Miami is one of the best stage-to-screen adaptations we have. Granted, we have been spoiled with also being graced with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom this year, but from most I have seen, it is so glaringly obvious that it came from the stage. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that, but it does tend to pull me out of the movie when that happens. In any case, One Night in Miami excels and shines when the focus is on its four incredibly well-cast co-stars. The film features one of the better ensemble casts you'll ever see and it's worth seeing for the performances alone. The dialogue, direction, performances, and screenplay are all fantastic and work well as an artistic, creative unit together. The film touches on themes that were exceedingly important for the time, and are still relevant even today. The film shifts tones brilliantly well, going from dark drama to comedy seamlessly and organically. It bears repeating that Regina King's directorial touch was a praiseworthy hallmark of the film which should be rewarded come awards time. I sincerely hope it does. Speaking of awards, I would request the academy may as well just give Leslie Odom Jr. his Supporting Actor golden statue right now. Let's call this needless race before it even starts. Jokes aside, but not really, this stage-to-screen adaptation is a must-see for fans of the original play and fans of film adaptations from the stage of the like. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and was also educated along the way. I highly recommend this to anyone who has the shred of a belief it may be for them.

 

Rating: Excellent

Scale:

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Abysmal
Dumpster Fire
How did this get made

 

One Night in Miami... is an Amazon Original Film and can be found streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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By Rob McNeil

My name is Rob McNeil. I was born and raised in Normal, Illinois and I am a 28 year-old award winning screenwriter. I am very passionate about film, so much that I watch far too many films on a daily basis. I have written fifteen feature screenplays, a spec pilot thriller series, and several short scripts. I aim to make filmmaking a career, but for now, I will write about it.

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