by Rachel Yang, Entertainment Weekly
Regina King is already making history with her feature directorial debut, One Night in Miami. The Emmy and Oscar winner is now the first African American woman to direct a film selected by the Venice Film Festival. The film, which has been picked up by Amazon Studios, is a fictionalized imagining of a real-life meeting of the minds among four heavyweights in American culture: Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali and played by Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr).
But it seems King has succeeded in her ambitious retelling of the evening, when the four friends gathered at a motel to celebrate Clay's win against Sonny Liston in February 1964. The first reviews are in, and critics are praising King's direction, Kemp Powers' story (adapted from his own stage play), and the four actors who embody the cultural giants. While it appears One Night in Miami might not completely escape the limitations of its bottle-like setting, it's still a critical knockout, humanizing and celebrating the four icons and all they stood for.
Here are some of the reviews:
The Hollywood Reporter (David Rooney): "To some extent, One Night in Miami remains high-quality filmed theater. But the conviction and stirring feeling brought to it elevate the material, making this an auspicious feature debut. Here's hoping that King, one of our most consistently excellent screen actors, continues to spread her wings in this direction."
IndieWire (Kate Erbland): "While King and Powers aren’t attempting to offer a precise historical transcription of whatever happened that fateful night, what One Night in Miami provides is something richer: an emotionally accurate telling, one that always endeavors to find the real people underneath the famous gloss. One Night in Miami hits so hard because it remains joyfully, often painfully grounded in what makes a person extraordinary, even when the world isn’t ready for them. Here’s hoping this world is ready for what King has to show it.
Variety (Owen Gleiberman): "Where the film comes together, and holds you as a structured piece of drama, is in the theme that surges throughout it but is given a name only at the end: “Black power.” ... Revolution was in the air, yet only Malcolm X had named it as such. One Night in Miami is a casually entrancing debate about power on the part of those who have won it but are still figuring out what to do with it.
The Guardian (Jonathan Romney): "But the film is above all an enclosed talking piece for four terrific actors. Perhaps inevitably, Goree’s Clay lights up the screen whenever he talks – revealing the acuteness and sensitivity beneath the showmanship — with Hodge’s Brown as a saturnine, skeptical foil. But the meat of the meet lies in the interplay between Malcolm X and Sam Cooke — not least, perhaps, because we know their deaths were just around the corner."
The Wrap (Alonso Duralde): "For a first-timer to tackle a period piece featuring four cultural legends would be impressive enough, more so when said period piece is based on a four-guys-in-a room play that the screen adaptation livens up with musical performance, boxing sequences and massive crowd scenes. King doesn’t just take on these challenges; she succeeds at turning a property with a number of potential wrong turns into a vibrant historical tale tackling issues and controversies that remain tragically relevant nearly 60 years later."
Executive Producer: Paul Davis