Movie Reviews

One Night in Miami movie review (2020)

As Jim Brown, Lodge exudes an athletic prowess and the powerful presence Richard Pryor used to marvel at in his comedy routines. At the time, Brown was breaking records as a Cleveland Brown, tearing up the field, and earning the admiration of fans everywhere. Powers uses Brown to highlight how little Black humanity matters, regardless of one’s celebrity. Beau Bridges has an unforgettable cameo as Carlton, a resident of Brown’s hometown, St. Simmons, Georgia, who knew the Browns and is proud to say he’s from the same town as a future Hall-of-Famer. His reunion with Brown seems genial and friendly until the moment Brown offers to help Carlton move some furniture. Carlton nonchalantly reminds Brown that he’s never “allowed n–gers in the big house.” Lodge lets his face tell the story; no matter how big you get, you’re still not as good as an average White man.

Verbally, Goree and Ben-Adir have the biggest shoes to fill. They’re playing fast-talkers, men who command attention by virtue of the words they spoke and the cadences in which they spoke them. Clay sold woof tickets about his prowess while Malcolm peddled Black Power and Black enlightenment. Both are inextricably bound in “One Night in Miami” because a major plot point is Clay’s conversion to the Muslim faith as a follower of Elijah Muhammad. Clay is more than just a major get for Malcolm, as Clay is serious and devout about his conversion, but Malcolm himself has doubts about his future in the Nation of Islam. Goree is convincing in the ring in the two bouts presented here, and he’s also as funny and quick as his real-life counterpart, even nailing the accent without overdoing it. This is his night to celebrate, yet he willfully spends much of it playing peacemaker between the others, especially Cooke and Malcolm.

Ben-Adir has the most difficult role to play here, and not just because he’s standing in the inescapable shadow of Washington’s work. Malcolm is quite a bit of a self-righteous troublemaker at times, forcing the rest of the crew to consider their power as Black men in the public eye who either don’t have his controversial baggage (Cooke and Brown) or are about to inherit it (Clay’s conversion to Cassius X). Ben-Adir has to carefully balance these moments, keeping Malcolm’s power on the level of an audience who will push back. “I’ve got something for your ass!” he tells Cooke after a major back-and-forth about whether Cooke should sing protest songs. Malcolm puts on “Blowing in the Wind,” a song by a White man, to show Cooke that even Bob Dylan is more activist than he is. There’s a lot of sting in the interactions that populate this one night, and Ben-Adir brings much of it. As great as this ensemble is, his Malcolm stands out just a little more than the others.

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