Regina King has been in a lot of movies and TV shows over the years. If anything it’s almost surprising it took her this long to move to directing. But after One Night in Miami it’s clear Regina King can excel at anything. One Night in Miami is a powerful film about one night with Sam Cooke, Malcolm X, Cassius Clay and Jim Brown. Taking place just before and immediately after Clay’s fight with Sonny Liston it sees the four men, all friends (mostly), come to terms with what it means to be black in a society that wants to mold them in its own image.
The four characters create a kind of spectrum of beliefs with Malcolm X on one end and Sam Cooke on the other. It’s the kind of filmmaking Spike Lee used to make in his prime. This could have easily been a bomb. When your main characters are all already larger than life figures it would be simple to let them devolve into caricature. But that never happens. There are moments when you honestly believe you’re watching these legends on-screen.
More to the point they all feel like real people that have lived real lives. Denzel Washington did an amazing job of portraying Malcolm X in Spike Lee’s film over 30 years ago but it always felt like Denzel on the screen. Kingsley Ben-Adir puts so much heart and soul into his version of Malcolm X, from his walk to the way he talks, that you can see the weight of the world on his shoulders. The same can be said for all the characters really, though they should it differently.
This film goes a long way in making legends feel human. That’s important when dealing with big issues like race and society. In the age of streaming, very few films are worth watching multiple times. One Night in Miami will stand the test of time as a classic.