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‘One Night in Miami' review: Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown play the king’s gambits

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

Some of the writing remains explanatory first and dramatic second. But King, making her feature directorial debut, makes so many right decisions. The stakes are important, but the film is carried by a stream of small, acutely observed moments, and the way these actors move, converse, relate and enliven Powers’s best dialogue. It’s a case of getting the best of both worlds: a strong, mellow film of urgent, historically prescient ideas expanded from a juicy theatrical premise.

Visually it’s all of a piece, with the browns and avocado greens of the motel room interior creating a kind of womb for some difficult confrontations. King’s camera favors the slow lateral glide, which quietly energizes the conversation. Terence Blanchard’s score goes for solo jazz piano lines, nimble and expressive. This isn’t a full-orchestra kind of affair; it’s a jazz quartet of a play, and a movie, though there are other performers on the sidelines of the action, notably Lance Reddick as the steely, watchful bodyguard, Brother Kareem.

Powers has said that with “One Night in Miami” he wanted to write a play about “the Black Avengers,” four men championing and exemplifying different realms of Black struggle and achievement, while rallying for a common cause. That’s director King’s movie, too. I don’t know how long she rehearsed with her actors before shooting, but the results are seasoned and absorbing, and it’s as if they had all done the stage version together for years. And that’s high praise.

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‘ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI’

 

3.5 stars

MPAA rating: R (language throughout)

Running time: 1:54

Premieres: Friday on Amazon Prime.

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