By Richard Roeper
Signal Contributing Writer
‘One Night in Miami’
Amazon Studios presents a film directed by Regina King. Rated R (for language). Available on Amazon Prime Video.
The joke making the social media rounds in the wake of the Georgia Senate runoffs goes like this:
“A Black man and a Jewish man walk into a bar in Georgia and the bartender says, ‘What’ll you have, senators?’”
Virtually every “walk into a bar” joke ever told is based on a premise of, “Now there’s something you don’t see every day.” And so it goes with films and TV series that use a real-life meeting between notable figures as a launching point for largely (or completely) fictional works of entertainment, whether it be The King and the president meeting in “Elvis & Nixon” (2016) or Queen Elizabeth’s conversations with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Crown” or even the recent “The Comey Rule” on Showtime, which reimagines a dinner between the director of the FBI and the beleaguered president.
Director Regina King’s memorably electric “One Night in Miami” (based on the 2013 stage play of the same name by Kemp Powers) is based on the real-life convergence of Cassius Clay (who would soon become known to the world as Muhammad Ali), Jim Brown, Sam Cooke and Malcolm X in Miami Beach in 1964, on the night Clay defeated the favored Sonny Liston and became heavyweight champion of the world. At Ali’s urging, the four men wound up in Malcolm X’s room at the Hampton House Motel for a long night of discussion. Others were present in the room, but for the sake of dramatic impact, “One Night in Miami” is a four-man show, with crackling good performances by Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Leslie Odom Jr. as Cooke, Eli Goree as Clay/Ali and Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown.
After a series of scene-setting opening vignettes, including the mesmerizingly great Cooke performing at the Copacabana to a dismissive and rude all-white crowd, and conquering NFL hero Brown visiting an old friend and neighbor in his hometown in Georgia, where the pleasantries take a harsh and racist turn, “One Night in Miami” spends the bulk of its time in Malcolm X’s hotel suite, where the four men gather to celebrate Ali’s monumental victory — a celebration that turns into a long and sometimes contentious night of debate and discussion about each man’s place in the world in 1964, and what they’re doing to advance the cause of racial and social equality.
At first, Malcolm X comes across as almost nerdy and is teased by the alpha jock football player and boxer and the sex-symbol crooner, but as the night deepens, Malcolm becomes more forceful as he challenges the others, particularly Cooke, to use their platforms and their gifts to effect real change. When Cooke says he sticks primarily to old-fashioned love songs because protest music doesn’t sell, Malcolm plays a recording of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which had become a mega-hit.
With Terence Blanchard’s score beautifully augmenting the history-
in-the-making gathering of these four icons at a pivotal moment in their lives, “One Night in Miami” is filled with profoundly impactful exchanges, and a sprinkling of edgy, comedic observations, e.g., when Brown cracks about Malcolm X that it’s always the lighter-skinned Blacks who are the most radical. And there’s a bittersweet cloud hanging over the proceedings, as we know both Cooke and Malcolm X will be shot and killed within a year of this evening.
The performances are universally excellent, with Leslie Odom Jr. beautifully conveying Cooke’s magnetism on stage and off; Kingsley Ben-Adir capturing Malcolm’s single-minded determination and dedication to the cause; Eli Goree managing to sound and look like Clay/Ali without delving into an easy impersonation; and Hodge delivering a nuanced performance as Brown, who often acts as the go-between, the interpreter, between Malcolm and Cooke, who want the same things but have very different ideas about how to achieve those goals.
We don’t know the details of that famous meeting of four legends more than half-century ago, but if it was anything like what plays out in “One Night in Miami,” oh what a night.
‘News of the World’
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Paul Greengrass. Written by Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies, based on the novel by Paulette Jiles. Rated PG-13. Available on demand.
There was an era — and that era was the 1970s — when a Time magazine poll named news anchor Walter Cronkite as “the most trusted man in America,” and Watergate investigative heroes Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were largely responsible for the occupation of journalist regularly charting near the top of the rankings of most admired professions in the USA.
If we were to conduct a poll of the most trusted actors in America, I’d argue Tom Hanks would be near the top of that list, and Hanks is perfectly cast as an 1870 news anchor of sorts in Paul Greengrass’ gritty and visceral and deeply resonant “News of the World,” a rough-and-tumble Texas road-trip movie that plays like a hybrid of the John Wayne movies.
Hanks reteams with his “Captain Phillips” director to play a very different kind of captain — one Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Civil War veteran who fought for the Confederate infantry and sustained injuries both external and internal, and has now carved out a unique way of making a living, i.e., he rides from town to town in the raw and rough state of Texas and literally reads the news of the world to the townsfolk for 10 cents a head, bringing them the latest developments from near and afar,
Jefferson is a stoic man, a widower who keeps to himself, but his solitary, nomad life is upended when he happens across a 10-year-old girl named Johanna (Helena Zengel), who has spent much of her life as a captive of the Kiowa tribe and has been left with the authorities after her captors were killed. Jefferson takes on the responsibility of transporting the girl to her only surviving relatives in the far-off hill country town of Castroville, and thus begins a long and arduous journey, made all the more difficult because Johanna is deeply resentful of this strange man, speaks not a word of English and doesn’t even understand the concept of a knife and fork.
With the lush and moving score by James Newton Howard, “News of the World” has a rather deliberate pace that allows for the inevitable bonding between the world-weary and tough but goodhearted Jefferson and the wild and rebellious Helena.
We know these two will run into nearly insurmountable obstacles along the way, and director Greengrass does his usual superb job of amping up the suspense, whether Jefferson is dealing with a racist power broker named Mr. Farley (Thomas Francis Murphy) in one town who forces Jefferson to read Fake News propaganda, or engaged in a prolonged and deadly shootout with a band of nasty outlaws led by Michael Angelo Covino’s suitably hiss-worthy Almay, who wants to capture Johanna and turn her into a child prostitute.
Director Greengrass is a master at combining sympathetic character studies with docudrama and he’s at the top of his game here in this expertly crafted adaptation of the 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles. “News of the World” works at the highest levels as a story of two lost souls who find each other, and as a crackling good, blood-spattered Western.
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