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  One Night in Miami... Four For Glory
Year: 2020
Director: Regina King
Stars: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr, Lance Reddick, Christian Magby, Joaquina Kalukango, Nicolette Robinson, Michael Imperioli, Lawrence Gilliard Jr, Derek Roberts, Beau Bridges, Emily Bridges, Amondre D. Jackson, Jerome A. Wilson
Genre: HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: February the 25th 1964, and Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) is fighting Sonny Liston for the title of Heavyweight World Boxing Champion tonight, confident in the belief he will win. After the match, he has planned a quiet get-together with his three friends, all famous African American men: Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), the activist, Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr), the singer and composer, and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), the sportsman. All four have suffered an indignity recently, separate from the others but linked by one problem endemic in the United States: racism, which keeps setting them back and making unwanted demands of them...

One Night in Miami was based on a stage play that took an actual event, the aforementioned meeting of those four greats in black American history, and built up an idea of what writer Kemp Powers thought might have happened, since the facts of what occurred were never made public. Rather than have them all shoot the breeze and have a laugh, it was evidently decided that was not dramatic enough therefore a scenario was dreamt up where they would thrash out the matter of racism and how it affected the quartet, and what they could do about it. Doubtless these men really did have those conversations, but did they play out like this?

What could have been a hangout movie with some very well-cast actors turned into something more didactic, though that may have been unavoidable in a climate of the early twenty-twenties when no matter what colour you were you could look back on the sixties Civil Rights struggles and wonder with dismay, have we really moved on as much as they all expected back then? In Cooke's classic song A Change is Gonna Come, there is optimism, and it is referenced pointedly in star turned director Regina King's film, but from some angles it appeared the progress, if it was happening, was so slow as to be negligible for the victims of the racist mindset.

So there was a sense of looking back from a privileged position on these men, knowing that, for instance, two of them would never see the sixties become the seventies thanks to bullets ending their lives prematurely, one in a political act and the other in... well, it's more of a mystery, one still raising questions to this day. As indeed does the other death. What was welcome here was how adeptly the cast inhabited their roles, for there was a danger this could grow rather dry once we were stuck in the motel room for long periods of time, and in truth when conversation grew serious perhaps you were not convinced it was quite as engaging as you might hope. Certainly a lot of the conflict here was invented between the famous people for dramatic purposes.

Maybe a sense of solidarity could have been emphasised more, they were all good friends after all and going through an experience - of an African American man being hugely successful in a white-dominated world - that should have made them masters of all they surveyed yet there was a system in place that treated them with suspicion and at times, outright hostility that proved the playing field was far from level. Malcolm is shown arguing with Sam about whether Sam is essentially an Uncle Tom because he has so many white fans, but thankfully the film rejected that reading by showing the power in his beautiful voice, nicely recreated by Odom, that translated into financial reward, influence and even respect. Cassius is about to become Muhammad Ali, and his allegiance to The Nation of Islam is illustrated as empowering but problematic at the same time: it is noted Malcolm is leaving just as he joins. Meanwhile Jim has a movie career to look forward to, playing a different kind of game. You may be irritated at the liberties and inaccuracies if you're a real stickler, but if it never quite took off, there was the basis for debate, and depicting positive debate as a path forward, not yelling at each other. Music by Terence Blanchard.

[The Criterion Collection release this on Blu-ray with all these features:

New 4K digital transfer, approved by director Regina King, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray
New conversation between King and filmmaker Kasi Lemmons
New conversation among King, screenwriter Kemp Powers, and critic Gil Robertson
Conversation between King and filmmaker Barry Jenkins from a 2021 episode of The Director's Cut - A DGA Podcast
New program featuring King and actors Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr.
New program on the making of the film, featuring King, Powers, director of photography Tami Reiker, editor Tariq Anwar, producer Jody Klein, costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck, and set decorator Janessa Hitsman
New program on the film's sound design, featuring sound editor and mixer Andy Hay, sound mixer Paul Ledford, and music producer Nick Baxter
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
English descriptive audio
PLUS: An essay by critic Gene Seymour.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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