Review – One Night In Miami

Prime Video under the auspices of ABKCO Films (more about them later), written by Kemp Powers and directed by the brilliant actor/writer/producer/director Regina King premiered One Night In Miami last night.

It featured sterling performances from

Kingsley Ben Adir as Malcolm X; Eli Goree as Muhammad Ali/Cassius Clay; Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown and Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke.

ABKCO stands for Allen and Betty Klein and COmpany.

Yes this is the Allen Klein noted for his relationship w/among many including The Beatles. He also managed Sam Cooke. As you can see there’s evidently some conflict of interest here which disallows the transparency one might expect in a film of this nature regarding Mr. Klein.

However slight I won’t let this ‘detail’ mar what’s otherwise a superb movie.

We’re privy to a meeting of men in the budding almost incidental stages of their friendships. The rhythm of their patter is something with which most brothers are familiar. It’s full of all the Ebonics and colloquialism one would expect amongst a meeting of black men. This makes me wonder how far this sort of thing really went. Or better yet how far could it go? How many power brokers who’re also friends engage each other in ways which suggests investment in the future?

The period of time covered here are the hours immediately before, during and after Muhammad Ali’s – then Cassius Clay – capturing of the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston. The focus then are the lives and challenges facing all four men in the moment and going forward.

While the questions asked and unasked in this film are the focus, I’ll try n limit my thoughts here to the performances especially. The context of content will provide material for discussion and debate for years to come.

While the individual challenges faced by these men are unique to their station in life the common denominator of their black maleness is depicted in a matter-of-fact way rarely seen in mainstream media productions.

We get a glimpse – albeit fictionally imagined – of what these cats were like away from the podiums, spotlights/stages, and fields of play. We see them sans the pressure of the always slanted press or even the scrutiny of public opinion. We see them as human black men at a crossroads of their lives.

Kingsley Ben Adir’s Malcolm X had me thinking if Obama could act and be given a part to play Malcolm X this would be it. That aside his portrayal consisted of a combination of sensitivity, fear, frustration, paranoia, patience, love and vigilance. He alone found ways to piss off if not challenge all three.  And all three found a way to return the favor. But the pressure of such never caved him. He stoodfast (to quote how the NOI used ta talk back in da day) and faced em all right or wrong. He’s the anchor of rage seeking to both inspire and galvanize these men for ‘the movement’ – i.e. – ‘the struggle’.

It’s funny as we watch this and other such portrayals of our great cultural and historical icons how we don’t really know these people much at all.

For instance, we kinda knew at least the musical roots of Sam Cooke

Considering the immense pressure, he was under as one of the first black male artists (I must always emphasize ‘male’ because of continued attempts to demonize if not minimize their significance) to own his masters, we do not know how he dealt with it. Nor do we know how the deterioration of his marriage as well as the betrayals which surrounded him impacted him. Leslie Odom Jr in my opinion should create quite the Award worthy buzz as he captured not only the physical essence of Sam Cooke but with the use of his own instrument eerily recreates Mr. Cooke’s beautifully mellifluous tone. Sam Cooke’s character reminds me a lot of how many of the adults felt about the more militant aspects of the black struggle. His attitude towards Malcolm drips with cynicism and sarcasm. Odom reminds us that Sam is after all a star. A conflicted one but a star just the same. He’s almost always profiling or preening but more out of the habits borne of the affectations of showbiz than conceit. Sam is expansion, elevation, larger than life, wise and ‘showtime’.

Ali as played by Eli Goree seems almost insignificant at times despite him being the centerpiece around which this confab took place. I must remember comparatively speaking he’s almost a child next to the others. He is 22 yet holds a position relatively bigger than any man. Heavyweight champ implies you’re a bad man. The baddest.

Eli has the physique, some of the moves and almost all of Ali’s gift of gab, cadence, and inflections down pat. His energy and youthful exuberance were topped only by his wit and yes even his wisdom. Again, here’s another man we don’t really know. He was so gifted with his gab he often talked us all right out of his private life. We think we know but we really do not. The fact that there is an Ali movie and now this dramatic portrayal as well may help us see and understand better the kinds of lives these men led.

Aldis Hodge as the great Jim Brown represented achievement through hard work. He like Ali knew he must torture his body rigorously to withstand the constant pounding and collisions as well as the speed needed to run away from or elude any and all comers. His stoic take no prisoners demeanor has followed him from his career and throughout his life. He was the steadying rock. But his rock is more like a mountain. He offers success if you can make it to the top. It was telling that the scene which allowed us a peak at Malcolm’s vulnerability and sensitivity was shared with Jim the tough guy. Ali was the champ, but Jim was a tough guy. The tough guy helped focus the fire of Malcolm while helping him use his humanity to love, forgive and reveal truth.

Of course, these men each had agenda which drove them. The agenda were shaped by the seen and unseen people in each of our participants lives. Ali must deal with management and both his conversion as well as his newfound fame. That includes ppl like the NOI and Angelo Dundee. Malcolm has Betty and a family to feed and a question of faith to reconcile. Sam’s dealing with a wife and questions of loyalty at home and with management and Jim is at a crossroads of fame but still battling racism – which they all do – head on. These issues are addressed in the beautifully written and performed supporting roles.

When was the last time you saw a movie with black men of this stature so complex yet loving, entertaining yet real, joyful yet tragic?

I’ve watched it twice and will likely watch it again.

It’s that good.

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