There's no replicating the visceral immersion of live theatre. But as many stages across the world remain dark for the foreseeable future because of coronavirus concerns, it's worth remembering that a lot of movies have managed to take works originally crafted for the stage and turn them into distinctive feats of filmmaking. Recent examples include 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom', 'Pieces of a Woman', 'The Father' - and now Regina King's adaptation of 'One Night in Miami'.
Based on a play by Kemp Powers, the film dramatises a 1964 night in which Cassius Clay (Eli Goree, 'Godzilla') - on the verge of changing his name to Muhammad Ali - celebrated his surprise title win over Sonny Liston alongside some notable pals in activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir, 'King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword'), songwriter Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr, 'Music'), and football star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge, 'The Invisible Man') at the historic Hampton House hotel. Lance Reddick, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Michael Imperioli pop up, too.
A lot of stage adaptations aren't cinematic - they're usually the main characters talking in a room while the camera just kind of swivels around. Watching 'One Night in Miami' and looking back at, say, 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom', you can really see the different approaches to taking a stage performance and translating it to the big screen. The slight change of scenery in King's film gives it a breath of fresh air that is needed at times. Both movies are fraught with tension, but where 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' stays put, 'One Night in Miami' takes us into a boxing ring during a heavyweight fight, climbs up onto a roof and walks off the street into a liquor store. Regina King take the audience outside of the room at Hampton House, and in doing so keeps the plot moving and dynamic.
Films that explore political or cultural issues are usually content with having one clear point of view, while any argument scenes tend to have an obvious "right" person and "wrong" person. It makes sense if the movie is taking a firm stand on something, and those scenes can be entertaining or satisfying, but it's also pretty easy to pick out writer surrogate characters. It can feel condescending if it's not executed well.
But each of the men in 'One Night in Miami' was and is an icon in their own right, and King's film doesn't let us forget what their individual successes meant to the world - especially within the black community - while also highlighting the human sides of these figures not often portrayed in the media or seen in public.
Each of the men in 'One Night in Miami' was and is an icon in their own right, and King's film doesn't let us forget what their individual successes meant to the world - especially within the black community - while also highlighting the human sides of these figures.
In some ways, the film bears a strange resemblance to something like 'The Breakfast Club'. Where John Hughes presented a brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel and a recluse, Regina King introduces us to a boxer, a baller, an artist and an activist. What bound the teens in 'The Breakfast Club' together was the various pains and struggles of adolescence, and what binds these men together are the various pains and struggles of racial prejudice. The latter obviously far outweighs the former in terms of importance, but it's an interesting comparison.
Goree plays Ali as a well-meaning lug, and Hodge's Jim Brown gets the film's most startling scene when he and Beau Bridges' Mr Carlton (based on a real acquaintance of Brown's) discuss Southern etiquette. Give me a Sam Cooke biopic starring Leslie Odom Jr any day - musical aspects aside, we see the vibrant star side of Sam, the underlying desire to speak his truth, and everything in between. Ben-Adir's Malcolm, while well-played, is very much on one mission and laser-focused. A highlight of the film is Sam's monologue about the Rolling Stones, which is a brilliant fuck you to Malcolm's withering appraisal of the singer's contributions to their community.
It's much more rewarding to have something to actually think about or a moral question to ponder rather than have the movie tell you how to feel. It's a rare pleasure to watch a film like Regina King's 'One Night in Miami' that is willing to leave big questions about four larger-than-life men up in the air instead of trying to answer them.