Based on a night that might have really happened, One Night in Miami follows the events that happened in a hotel room following Muhammed Ali’s world championship title win in 1964. Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown and Malcom X spent the evening together, and that premise is enough on it’s own to intrigue me.
I don’t think know how historically accurate this film is, but the setting serves as a perfect backdrop for the conversations about these prominent figures in Black history and their impact on the world. I’d only heard of one of the 4 main actors, that one being Leslie Odom Jr, a star of Hamilton, which was probably the best thing I watched during Lockdown. I really should write about Hamilton.
The movie picks up before that title fight, and introduces us to the main characters in their elements, giving each actor a chance to establish themselves with the audience before they are thrown together. Up to then it’s a bit by the numbers and uninteresting, nothing really grabbing me. The boxing scenes aren’t particularly stunning, but it’s not what this film is about.
Malcom X is played by Kinglsey Ben-Adir, who peaky blinders fans might recognise, but he was a newcomer to me. He certainly looks the part, and brings the sense of purpose and focus I imagine embodied a man like Malcom X. He is the driver of the conversation, which would have been little more than a drunken night out without his presence. At first he struck me as that guy who gets all political on a night out, but quickly you understand there is more to this for him. It’s not just about a boxing victory celebration.
Cassius Clay is such an iconic figure, it’s a huge testament to actor Eli Goree that I only ever saw Ali. He becomes the young version of the man who would go on to conquer the boxing world seamlessly. I wanted more from him, but the plot just didn’t require it and despite being such a larger than life character, he blends into the room when it’s other’s time to shine. That collaborative effort is shared between all the actors.
I wouldn’t normally dedicate a paragraph to each of the main actors in a film, but this one deserves it. Aldis Hodge brings a confident, sure of himself power to NFL star and actor Jim Brown. He is the least “active” of the quartet, but in his moments he provides some well placed levity and some thoughtful moments with characters that support the other three well.
There was a moment in the film when I nodded and went “It’s his film now”. Leslie Odom Jr is an incredibly talented human, he is the best part of Hamilton and that’s praise of the highest order. His portrayal of Sam Cooke is an excellent piece of casting as the characters love for music is easily brought to life in little moments early on in the film. Then he explodes with charisma and is magnetic on screen during the most memorable moments of this film.
It perhaps lends to Odom Jr’s talents that the film plays out like a stage play. There are long one shot takes and the majority of the movie takes place in one hotel room. That theatre feel carries over into the passionate speeches the characters exchange as they battle for their own way of fighting the same fight.
There is no debating the importance of the cause they are fighting. The hardest moments of this film for me came after the credits reflecting on it. Black people’s struggles are appallingly still prevalent today. The fact this film’s message is still something we need to discuss is horrendous, but we do and therefore we need to keep having the tough conversations.
One Night in Miami isn’t a perfect film, but its provocative and entertaining one. The performances elevate it, and Leslie Odom Jr deserves all the praise he is getting for this one. It’s not a film I think everyone will enjoy, but one I did a lot.
Good: Magnetic performance’s and an intriguing premise make this one worth spending the time watching.
Bad: Slow pace at the start and stage play like back and forth is maybe not for everyone.
TL;DR – The story of One Night in Miami that Leslie Odom Jr earned an Oscar Nomination.