By Tyler Gibson
Beloved veteran actress Regina King makes her movie directorial debut adapting Kemp Power’s play about Black iconography and reconciliation. Unfortunately, King’s novice experience behind the camera too often renders the film flat and tacky. What should be a melody of character and dialogue is poorly executed due to an over-reliance on standard, visually unappealing coverage and uninteresting closeups. One Night in Miami unfortunately, is trapped by its theatrical and stage context. Any camerawork to expand the play, such as moving establishing shots, is unmotivated and lacking.
The first act introduces us to the historical figures and the engaging actors tasked with bringing such legends to life. Although the opening boxing scene amateurishly confuses loud sound effects for cinematic verve, Eli Goree is appropriately boisterous and gregarious as Cassius Clay. Aldis Hodge is a personal favorite, valiantly portraying football player Jim Brown as he considers retiring from the sport in favor of a movie career. Malcolm X and Sam Cooke receive the majority of screentime as their intense dynamic climaxes in a dramatic third act confrontation. Leslie Odom Jr. plays Cooke with an undercurrent of seething indecision. Kingsley Ben-Adir provides the necessary profound resolve to handle Malcolm X’s arc. The men eventually converge at a motel room for a night of conversation, and the script does a lot of underwhelming wheel-spinning to get us there.
Regina King’s inconsistent handling heightens the flaws in the screenplay by Kemp Powers. There’s a hunger to deeply dive into these Black icons and examine their conflicted relationships to persona. However, the writing lacks incision. The dialogue isn’t very impressive or observant. Early attempts at humor such as banter regarding ice cream are not remotely funny. It’s a talky script that doesn’t have much to say, which wouldn’t be an issue, but it doesn’t precisely express these lives and conversations in a manner that isn’t anonymous. Black creators deserve safe spaces to create art. It’s all the more unfortunate the trite and middlebrow “One Night in Miami” squanders this potential.