One Night in Miami Movie Review
What I’ve learned over the last few years is that, though not without exception, I’m not a huge fan of movies adapted from plays. Specifically character-driven, dialogue-heavy plays. The translation to the big screen often feels unnecessary, and worse, a little flaccid. One Night in Miami squarely falls into this category. It’s fine but wholly unremarkable.
The debut directorial effort by Regina King, One Night in Miami doesn’t present a great preview of what she might do with other, more dynamic material. Seemingly content to let her actors chomp on the dialogue written years ago by playwright and screenwriter Kemp Powers, King could have simply recorded an on-stage version to largely the same effect. The movie feels like a film of another era, the palette simple and a little dated, its delivery straightforward and generic.
Powers’ screenplay, and the acting, also do not seem to have adjusted to this movie being a cinematic release. The dialogue, which largely focuses on the role four important black men (Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Muhammad Ali) should play in the civil rights movement, is fast, fierce, and heartfelt. The actors, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom Jr., Aldis Hodge, and Eli Goree, respectively, are all quite good, with Odom Jr. being the standout. But their performances all feel more well-suited for the stage than the camera, their emotions, anger, and ferocity confined, if not slightly exaggerated, by and for the wrong medium.
Compare this production to the recently released Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, another play-turned-movie. While I had some similar criticisms of how the dialogue translated to the big screen, the performances were transcendent, the direction, cinematography, and even set design bold and engrossing.
One Night in Miami isn’t without its strong moments, and the story itself presents compelling arguments and counterarguments that feel representative of the philosophies of these historical figures. But One Night in Miami is no cinematic achievement; I’d question whether it’s even cinematic at all.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.