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#TIFF20 Review: One Night in Miami (Gala Presentations)

September 14, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Built around a vital and exciting conversation between four Black icons, One Night in Miami is one of the best movies of the year. The majority of the the film is set on the night of February 25th, 1964, in the hours after young boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) – prior to changing his name to Muhammad Ali – has been crowned Heavyweight Champion of the world.

To celebrate, Cassius goes back to the Hampton House Motel to spend the night with his friends who came to watch the fight; activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). This historic meeting between the four men, which took place in real life and has been brilliantly dramatized onscreen, is exciting to watch unfold.

The meat of the film comes from the conversations they have in that hotel room, and what ensues is an incredible discussion about race in America, and whether or not an artist has the responsibility to use their voice. In some of the film’s best moments, the two most opposing members of the group, Malcolm X and Sam Cooke, clash over the best approach to advancing the Civil Rights movement, and it’s a conversation that resonates far beyond the film.

The film is directed by Regina King, who recently won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for If Beale Street Could Talk, and she turns in an incredibly confident directorial debut. The backbone of the film is a powerful script by Kemp Powers, who adapts his own stage play for the screen. The dialogue is crisp and sharp, with things really starting to pop during the arguments these men have, leading to many memorable and moving exchanges throughout the film.

The four actors all build upon and elevate each other’s performances with their distinct characterizations of these iconic historical figures. The whole ensemble is great, with Ben-Adir as Malcolm X and Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke delivering two of my favourite performances of 2020. The film is set to an excellent jazz score by musician Terence Blanchard, and the Sam Cooke songs “Chain Gang” and “A Change is Gonna Come,” beautifully covered by Odom Jr., are used brilliantly in two of the film’s most stirring moments.

The film takes place in 1964, and is based on a play from 2013, but One Night in Miami feels like it could have been written about this summer, offering a powerful discussion about what it means to be a Black man in America. It’s an engaging and extremely well acted film that, at its best, is positively electric in how it showcases the power of performance and the spoken word.

Public Screenings:

Friday, September 11th – 7:45 PM at Visa Skyline Drive-In at CityView

Sunday, September 13th – 6:00 PM at Bell Digital Cinema (Online for 24 Hours)

Wednesday, September 16th – 4:30 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

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