King, an acclaimed actor, has directed television before, but with One Night in Miami she has tapped into something transfixing as she tells the story of four legends of history who find themselves together in a singular motel room.
These legends are civil rights leader Malcolm X, boxer Cassius Clay, football player Jim Brown, and musician Sam Cooke played by Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr. respectively. They all come together under the same roof as they discuss their individual and collective futures. The film is written by screenwriter and playwright Kemp Powers, who also wrote last year's Soul, a fascinating movie that did not handle the writer's material as well as King manages to here.
The film's one night in question takes place after Cassius, who had yet to become Muhammad Ali, has defeated Sonny Liston. Well-directed boxing scenes are only the appetizer to the main course, which is scene after scene of crackling conversation. At the thirty-minute mark, the film settles in to become a canvas for reflective musings from the four friends.
The conversations, that often get heated, are deeply felt and honest. In particular, Malcolm and Sam constantly challenge each other on their ideological outlooks while still sharing stories of connection stemming from mutual respect.
King's actors capture these characters' larger-than-life personas while subtly revealing the vulnerabilities hidden beneath their public exteriors. Like how Cassius, who can boast like no else in the ring, is faced with converting to Islam and becomes uncertain. Or how Jim, one of the best to ever play football, is bashful and even shy about disclosing how he will become a movie star. King teases out these delicate performances and gives them life.
It is Ben-Adir's Malcolm who gets the most show-stopping monologues. He absolutely shouts them to the rafters... or rather, where the rafters would be if this was on the stage. Don't let the stripped-down sets and humble staging deceive you; this isn't just the equivalent of a filmed play. King instills the film with visual richness—from warm and vibrant colors to the way she delicately frames the four friends watching fireworks together on a roof.
Often messy and meandering, Malcom's performance prioritizes authentic dialogue to show the icon's tumultuous inner state of mind. It makes one wonder what Malcolm would've said about the tension between a film such as this that spotlights a Black-centric story being released by a company like Amazon.
That aside, One Night in Miami remains an assured and complex study of four characters who all get their moments to shine. It is precise and confident without shying away from the uncertainties that plague its characters. King has crafted a story that does right by its four titans of history who get to share the screen in a manner that will be hard to match.
You can stream One Night in Miami via Amazon Prime starting Friday, January 15.