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TIFF 2020 Review: One Night in Miami

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Boxer Cassius Clay celebrates his victory over Sonny Liston with Black activist Malcolm X, footballer Jim Brown and singer Sam Cooke, and plans to make a life-changing announcement.

In order to put their lives in the proper context before they all come together during and after the boxing match, each of the characters of Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) are treated individually.  The majority of the action takes place in a hotel room with Malcolm X providing most of the conflict as he sees this as an opportunity for a rallying cry for his companions rather than just a victory celebration.

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Based on a stage play by Kemp Powers, the movie adaptation by filmmaker and actress Regina King never leaves its theatrical roots behind with the minimal changes in locations.  Everything rides on the performances of the lead actors with cinematographer Tami Reiker making the best out of visual and space restrictions.  Eli Goree has the most flamboyant role and seems to enjoy every minute portraying the exuberant and mischievousness of Cassius Clay.  The tough part falls upon Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X who has to come across as passionate and sympathetic rather than being bully and in need of a sense of humour; he somewhat pulls that off.

Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke is on the receiving end of most of the criticism and deftly handles a range of emotions whether it be anger, playfulness, frustration or guilt.  Caught in the crossfire is Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown and in the process serves as a dramatic counterweight.  Despite the occasional shifts to other locations, the constant conflict with the hotel room becomes claustrophobic and one wishes that more time could have been had at the bar to relieve the tension and give the audience a chance to breathe.  As to whether the gathering was as life-changing as intended is open to debate but there is no double that the faith placed on the four leads by King was not misguided.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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