Release Date – 15th January 2021, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 55 minutes, Director – Regina King
Four influential African American figures; Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr) meet in a hotel room one night, discussing their status in society and the change they can help create.
While different in tone and style Pixar’s Soul and Regina King’s directorial debut One Night In Miami have a shared sense of humanity. Both written by Kemp Powers, Soul being a collaborative effort, both features, which have been talked about as awards season contenders, come with a feeling of hopefulness and pride. With this latest big screen venture Powers adapts his award winning stage-play of the same name. Following four iconic African American figures the film depicts Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr – who can truly belt out a song with the power, soul and sound of Cooke) meeting in a Miami hotel room to initially celebrate the 1964 World Heavyweight Championship win of Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) – yet to become Muhammed Ali.
However, the celebration quickly becomes a discussion about where the four stand in society, and what they can do to advance the civil rights movement. The conversation coolly flows like the gradually melting ice cream as each friend helps the others to pave a way forward for the future. Such talks are brought to life by a fantastic set of central performances that create believable and engaging characters that are, most importantly, human. Not forgetting well-placed humour, or the light, banter-like tone of some topics, each individual figure feels real, with a fresh 60’s-infused swagger to further boost their air of relatability and familiarity.
King allows for her cast to move and create humanity within their portrayals, making it all the more easier to connect with them and recognise their emotions. The ensemble is strong and despite the sometimes stage-like feeling of the piece, particularly being set a large deal in a single hotel room, each of the leads shines from the screen and leaves a lasting imprint on the mind. Awards consideration is rightfully discussed when it comes to these performances, however the conversation over who’s a lead, who’s not and whether the ensemble nature of four great pieces of acting has one specific ‘leader’ or nominee could get in the way of a nod. Whatever happens the performances are undeniably worthy of plaudits.
When you throw into the mix the heady tone of the 60’s and the celebration of victory, and energy of the drive to continue it on other ways, there’s a true upbeat sense of hope to the whole film. Pushed further by the passion that each figure has for their future. Clay is about to announce his conversation to Islam, soon to become Muhammed Ali, Cooke is trying to turn his art, his music, into a further form of activism. Meanwhile, Brown tries to push forward the role of black athletes, particularly within his sport of American football, and Malcolm X is, while thinking about how his own actions affect the world around him – particularly those who seem to be constantly surveilling him – is pushing each of them to further the impact that they can have and to spread the word of and engagement with the civil rights movement.
Powers’ screenplay allows for layered personalities that are simply further detailed by the fantastic performances that King’s direction allows and captures. Early exposition allows for a clear understanding of points and feelings throughout the piece as the characters engage in their conversations of impassioned hope.
Regina King knows exactly what to do with Kemp Powers screenplay, and she does it and more. When the night is over you’ll have consumed a refreshing drink of hopeful humanity brought about by four brilliant central performances that capture the tone almost perfectly.