Regina King‘s feature directing debut with drama ‘One Night in Miami…‘, from a screenplay by Kemp Powers based upon his original stage play of the same name, is the crowdpleasing TIFF20 film you should be watching. Blending entertainment and activism, fame and principle, together on one fabled evening to remember.

One Night in Miami… imagines a night in February 1964, when real-life friends Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X gather to celebrate Clay’s win over Sonny Liston, which made him the heavyweight champion of the world. The young and playful Clay (Eli Goree – ‘Riverdale‘), better known these days as Muhammad Ali, wants to party, but both he and football star Brown (Aldis Hodge – ‘The Invisible Man‘) know that’s only a temporary escape from the civil rights abuses that limit the lives of even celebrated Black Americans. Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir – ‘High Fidelity‘) and singer Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr. – ‘Hamilton‘) join the other two in a fancy Miami hotel room, where the four men begin with banter but soon root down to the hard questions facing them.

King has cast the finest actors to embody these iconic Black Americans, creating tough conversations on racism, and how or if Black entertainers are responsible to speak out against these subjects, to raise awareness and use their voice/platform for the right cause. Even tough these four accomplished individuals come from different backgrounds, living very different lives, they still face similar struggles and misfortunes just like their less fortunate Black community members. King doesn’t hold back to push these men in facing the harsh reality pointing out very diverse standpoints on supporting the Black Movement. Her film is filled with some heavy long dialogue, while the story itself mostly takes place in that one hotel room, but the actors make it engaging enough for you to stay focused on what’s being discussed.

Fresh on the heels of her Academy Award for ‘If Beale Street Could Talk‘, King’s masterful directing feels confident, and although her film does look too “stagy” most of the time, staying too close to the play in terms of visuals where a more interesting approach when it comes to the cinematography could’ve worked in the film’s favour, One Night in Miami… is one hell of a feature directing debut. Ben-Adir’s riveting portrayal of the strong willed Malcolm X is worthy of awards buzz, but so is Goree, who surprises in the role of Cassius Clay. Four solid performances of varying quality that are easily some of the best we’ve seen so far this year. And not to mention Odom Jr.’s end credits song that is nothing short of perfection.

One Night in Miami… is an admirable tight conversation piece with a lot of soul and an essential sense of confidence that’s necessary to bring this story to life on the big screen. A powerful debut by Hollywood Queen, King.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

TIFF20 Review – ‘One Night in Miami…’

Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 10, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 110 min.

PRODUCTION: An Amazon release of an ABKCO Films, Snoot Entertainment production. Producers: Jess Wu Calder, Keith Calder, Jody Klein. Executive producers: Paul O. Davis, Chris Harding, Regina King, Kemp Powers.

CREW: Director: Regina King. Screenplay: Kemp Powers. Editor: Tariq Anwar. Cinematography: Tami Reiker. Music: Terrence Blanchard.

WITH: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree, Lance Reddick, Christian Magby, Nicolette Robinson, Joaquina Kalukango, Michael Imperioli, Lawrence Gilliard Jr..

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