Anyone pining for the 1980’s with its padded shoulders, big hair and jacket sleeves pushed up to the elbows are now only able to find that kind of thing on retro TV channels and the Editor’s school photos (‘You’ re fired!’ – Ed). One Night in Miami goes back to the sixties where mercifully the style didn’t leaving you looking like an extra from ‘Stranger Things’. Starting in 1963 with a pre-Mohammed Ali Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) and the first of his many famous fights this time against Brit boxer and later part time aftershave salesman Henry Cooper who put the Clay on his backside and managed to maintain an entire subsequent career off that one moment . For Clay, though he won the fight, it became a bit of a wake-up call and for the three other iconic characters we catch up with they too will have their moment of clarity starting with Sam Cook (Leslie Odom Jr), with his star on the wane, performing to a largely white and dismissive audience. After this its legendary NFL star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) arriving at his manager’s home where he’s lauded but not allowed into the house because of his colour before we then catch up with Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), still part of the Nation of Islam, but friction and revelations between and him and Elijah Mohammed are causing him to rethink his future in the organization.
Four iconic and influential black figures in history are all at crossroads in their lives when they meet in a hotel one night in Miami to celebrate one of the biggest upsets in boxing history when underdog Cassius Clay defeats heavy weight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Convention Hall. The meeting of the four is a fictional tale but the film, based on the play of the same name, takes the men, all role models, and all at pivotal moments in their lives at a time of racial upheaval. The film plays out for 30 minutes as each of them struggle with their dilemmas. Clay is being courted by Malcolm X to convert to Islam, Cooke is struggling to reconcile that despite his musical influence his career is in decline, Jim Brown is girl crazy but his troubles with women were to be a precursor to serious criminal allegations against him later in life and Malcolm X, initially a calm and considered man yet propagating an anti white agenda casts doubt on the others positions in society none more so than Cook who he accuses of being merely a plaything for a white audience, an accusation that Cook bitterly resents.
With four powerful and opinionated men its hardly a surprise that sparks will fly as each learns from the others and there are four very good performances here. With so much testosterone sloshing around it’s a neat twist that One Night in Miami has been directed by Regina King herself no slouch in the acting stakes having won a Best Actress Oscar for ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’. With such absorbing performances it’s likely that there will be Oscar nominations here but the film, much like the recently released ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ (another likely Oscar contender) can’t escape its stagey roots with three quarters of the film mostly confined to the motel room. Dialogue heavy (but then so is every Tarantino film) there are some fiery and thought provoking moments here and its ideally suited for four such figures and as Jim Brown says, ‘This is one strange ‘f***ing night!’ and Hall appropriately and optimistically ends the films with Cook’s performance of, ‘A change is gonna come’. Almost fifty years later it’s still up for debate.
Here’s the One Night in Miami trailer…….
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI is streaming on Amazon Prime Video 15th January 2021