‘One Night in Miami…’ is gold standard for stage-to-film adaptations

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A civil rights revolutionary. A blues musician. A fullback for the Cleveland Browns. A world-renowned boxer. All African-American, all icons of the 1960s, and all meeting in a run-down motel in the middle of Miami.

This is the basic premise of the film “One Night in Miami…” Based on an actual meeting that took place on February 25, 1964, between Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), the story covers the night the four celebrated Clay’s boxing victory over Sonny Liston and his new title as heavyweight champion at a motel in Miami. Adapted from Kemp Powers’ play of the same name, the story imagines the conversation that took place between the four as a discussion of racial justice and a debate of the methods that they must take to achieve it.

The movie has garnered three Oscar nominations including one for Best Adapted Screenplay. And quite frankly, it’s not hard to see why for two primary reasons. First, Powers’ play is already such a unique concept and experience in itself, that it has the potential to win just from its own merit. But more importantly, its adaption to the big screen from the play format works so seamlessly. In my eyes, although recent adaptations like “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “The Father” are fantastic films that transition from the stage to the movies well, “One Night in Miami…” has now become the gold standard for stage-to-movie adaptations. And for that, it has a real shot of taking home a shiny yellow man.

In terms of acting, each portrayal in this film is so unique, I feel that the best way to break this movie down is by going through each of the respective characters and actors and giving my opinions.

First, Malcolm X: Kingsley Ben-Adir is a dead ringer for the civil rights icon, looking at a side-by-side of the two, it’s easy to see the striking similarities. Also, the paranoia that he displays coupled with his unbridled resolve is both admirable and extremely interesting to watch.

Next, Sam Cooke played by Leslie Odom Jr – who has been nominated for in an Oscar in the category of Best Supporting Actor – captivatingly portrays the blues singer. Although I wasn’t familiar with Cooke’s life, Odom Jr.’s portrayal was a stunning performance that also taught me about Cooke’s tendency to wait for what comes to him (Hamilton reference….anyone?).

Cassius Clay – Eli Goree’s portrayal of the world-renowned Muhammad Ali made me chuckle. Goree captured Clay’s trademark confidence and mannerisms perfectly. From his catchphrase, “I’m the greatest,” to his boisterous energy, Goree translates this to the film without beating us over the head with it.

And lastly, Jim Brown. Arguably the least important character, Aldis Hodge does what little he can with Jim Brown. Because of this, he does not exactly stand out but is certainly not a weak link.

One more thing before I wrap this up. I feel that music goes often underappreciated in films. Even when a character explicitly sings (not just ambient music) the vocal ability and song are often overlooked. But music contributes so much to the quality of a film, and this one is no exception.

Leslie Odom Jr.’s renditions of classic songs such as “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Chain Gain” are enthralling. Furthermore, Odom Jr.’s own original song called “Speak Now,” which has been nominated for an Oscar, is fantastic and pertinent in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. In fact, the song was written by Odom Jr. after the killing of George Floyd. The bassline and melody of the song are so unique, I highly recommend taking a listen.

So…the age-old question. Should you watch “One Night in Miami…”? Yes, definitely. It’s a good time for all, but especially if you’ve seen Powers’ works or you enjoy stage to film adaptations.

Grade: A-