What I’ve learned over the past few years is that, although not invariably, I’m not a huge fan of films that have been adapted from plays. Specially character-based, dialog-intensive games. Translation to the big screen often feels unnecessary and, worse, a little slack. One night in Miami falls exactly into this category. It’s fine, but completely unremarkable.
Regina King’s directorial debut, One night in Miami doesn’t offer a great preview of what it could do with other, more dynamic material. King seemed content with letting their actors witness the dialogue that playwright and screenwriter Kemp Powers wrote years ago. The film feels like a film from another time, the palette simple and a little dated, the delivery uncomplicated and general.
The Powers script and acting also don’t seem to have adjusted for this film to be a cinematic release. The dialogue, largely focused on the role that four important black men (Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali) should play in the civil rights movement, is quick, fierce and heartfelt. Actors Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom Jr., Aldis Hodge, and Eli Goree are all quite good, with Odom Jr. being the standout. But their performances feel better suited for the stage than the camera, their emotions, anger, and ferocity are limited, if not slightly exaggerated, by and for the wrong medium.
Compare this production with the recently released one Ma Rainey’s black bottom, another movie. While I had some similar criticisms of the translation of the dialogue to screen, the performances were transcendent, the direction, the cinematography, and even the set design bold and compelling.
One night in Miami is not without strong moments, and the story itself contains compelling arguments and counter-arguments that feel representative of the philosophies of these historical figures. But One night in Miami is not a cinematic achievement; I would ask if it’s even cinematic.
Rating by Erik Samdahl, unless otherwise stated.