The debut of Regina King (Beale Street Could Talk) behind the camera is an auspicious one, working from a script by playwright Kemp Powers from his 2013 play. Another fictionalized (based on true events) account set in February 1964 at a dilapidating Hampton House Hotel in south Florida’s Liberty City.
One Hight in Miami allows for spirited conversation and ribbing from notable black figures – Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke – as two of them would be dead within a couple of years of this imagined, celebratory meeting called by Malcolm X who distances himself from the Nation of Islam movement.
The four central characters are expounded nicely in a methodical way with intensity before and through the opening credits. They are compadres in a struggle for civil rights that has cautionary, if segregating aspects about it. Especially in beliefs of these thoughtful, articulate men – Leslie Odom, Jr. of Hamilton being soul crooner Cooke, Eli Goree, new heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay, Aldis Hodge as football great running back Brown transitioning to acting, and Britain’s Kingsley Ben-Adir as the iconic Black Muslim activist.
The casting is spot on as 22-year-old Clay has defeated the heavy favorite Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander) and under the tutelage of Malcolm changes his name in honor of the sect’s leader Elijah Muhammad (Jerome Wilson). The humanization of those men is palpable as multi-hyphenate Odom, Jr. endows the uncertainty of a successful star dealing with insecurities, not to mention the more socially relevant issues. And hears it from Malcolm.
Even as well as King sincerely provides the support for her able performers it’s hand for “One Night in Miami” to escape its origins which can be rather voluble and uneven especially around its midpoint. Still, sternness and levity have a natural vitality as the proceedings crescendo with cogent verisimilitude to an upbeat coda in illuminating an impressive stance for these black legends.