One Night In Miami...

One Night In Miami… | TIFF 2020 review

by W. Andrew Powell

One Night In Miami… is movie magic, and it’s going to be one of the most talked about films at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

The feature directorial debut by Regina King is a beautiful, touching, smart, and electric piece of storytelling, set in a magic moment that says so much about history, racism, and the change that’s still being fought for today.

It’s also easy to imagine the film earning multiple Oscars next year, including for at least two performances, not to mention writing, directing, and best picture.

Set in February, 1964, One Night In Miami… is based on the night when icons Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X got together in Miami to celebrate Clay’s surprise boxing win over Sonny Liston.

While I’m not sure anyone knows what they actually talked about that night, the screenplay by Kemp Powers, that’s based on his play of the same name, feels like he was actually there.

Eli Goree plays Cassius Clay, the man who would later take the name Muhammad Ali, and like the rest of the cast, he’s perfect. We follow him in the ring, as the film opens, and then meet each man, dealing with greatness, and still somehow belittled, assaulted, and insulted by racists everywhere they go.

Leslie Odom Jr. plays Sam Cooke, as he has his first show at the Copacabana, where he bombs–and even if that’s hard to imagine, it apparently happened. Meanwhile, Aldis Hodge plays football star Jim Brown, praised as one of the NFL’s greatest, and still insulted by a well-to-do fan.

And Kingsley Ben-Adir stars as Malcolm X, embodying every ounce of passion and power in the man who would inspire so many people.

The cast is literally stunning. They live in the spirit of these men, and it’s easy to forget you’re watching a movie. They draw you in, they’re inspired and inspiring, and the passion in these characters just flows into every moment of screen time.

Simply put, the film is about these men, coming to terms with each others ideologies, and realizing that they each are making their stands in the only way they each know how. They’re inspiring each other, and the actors remind you why these men were so powerful then and now.

The moment that Sam Cooke stands up and gets the crowd to sing “Chain Gang” gave me shivers, and it’s one of the most powerful moments in the film, but only just. Odom Jr. sings all of Cooke’s songs in the film, and they’re perfect, but if he’s going to win an Oscar for the role, he has to take on Ben-Adir, who will bring you to tears as Malcolm X.

In a perfect world, they would both walk away with Oscars.

The film is just perfect. Thanks to King and Kemp, it feels real–like a window in time. We think of these men as icons, but the power of the film is that it gives us these very human moments to be inspired by the men, and the actors, all over again.

It’s easy to feel like you’re right there with them, and that’s King’s greatest gift to this story. One Night In Miami… feels personal.

The film is also filled with small moments that hint at the tragic stories of the era, and for two of these men. Malcolm X was assassinated not long after the time in this film, and Sam Cooke was murdered under mysterious circumstances.

One Night In Miami… is uplifting though, and it’s passionate, and honest; real and heartfelt. It’s a beautiful, moving piece of modern cinema that feels like the work of a great director. If this is what Regina King is capable of today, I’m excited to see what she will work on next.

On top of everything else, the film is gorgeously shot, with cinematography by Tami Reiker. Her eye captures every nuance in the most natural way possible, and she sets a tone and a time, and place, while framing every speech and conversation.

One Night In Miami… screens at TIFF on Friday, September 11 at the Visa Skyline Drive-In at CityView, 7:45 PM; Sunday, September 13 online at Bell Digital Cinema from 6:00 PM; and Wednesday, September 16 at TIFF Bell Lightbox, 4:30 PM.

Read more from The GATE’s TIFF 2020 coverage.

“It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.”

Malcolm X

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