Married reviewers Greg Bruce and Zanna Gillespie watch One Night in Miami.
Greg used baby wipes to try to remove stains from the shirts he was ironing during our at-home screening of One Night in Miami. It was very distracting not just because of the inefficacy of baby wipes for stain removal but also because the packet was obnoxiously crackly - worse than a bag of barley sugars in a silent cinema - and don't get me started on the deafening expulsions of steam.
It was particularly grating because the performances in this film are exceptional and I was trying to pay close attention to the nuances each of the actors brought to the characters Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown. I am unhealthily familiar with the work of Leslie Odom Jr (Cooke) having fallen into a Hamilton (the musical) rabbit hole for a good portion of last year, but all the lead actors - Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree and Aldis Hodge - deliver captivating performances, which never cross over into caricature. In her feature film directorial debut, Oscar-winning actress Regina King proves she has a talent for getting the most out of her actors.
Adapted from Kemp Powers' play, One Night in Miami is a fictionalised account of a real night in which the four aforementioned men spend an evening in a motel room celebrating Cassius Clay's defeat of Sonny Liston. The stage play format is omnipresent throughout the film, which is dialogue-heavy, and you can almost see the stage directions on screen: Sam Cooke exits stage left. In that way, it is a bit claustrophobic and I found my interest piqued the few times they left the motel room. Greg agreed, but thought our concordance on that point made us sound like big dumb-dumbs, lamenting a lack of explosions and car chases. He's right. There's a purpose to the feeling of cabin fever as it relates to the black experience. It's necessarily oppressive.
The conversations/arguments had in that motel room are poignant and thought-provoking, addressing the different ways in which black power is gained and progress is made. Of course, it's heartbreakingly relevant, not really historical fiction at all. The film is the first-ever directed by an African-American female to have been selected for the Venice Film Festival.
Odom Jr's renditions of Sam Cooke's hits were transcendent, and provided an especially moving soundtrack to the powerful closing sequence. Thankfully for him, Greg had finished ironing by then, so I was able to fully absorb the weight of King's ending and our marriage was salvaged, for at least one more week.
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It's such an intriguing exercise, imagining what might have happened in the hours four giants of the 1960s hung out together on the night one of them won the world heavyweight championship. It starts, full of action, with Muhammad Ali in the ring, talking smack to the heavily-favoured Sonny Liston in the process of beating the crap out of him but, soon after, it cuts to Sam Cooke walking into Malcolm X's motel room and there the characters stay for most of the rest of the movie.
The movie is a talkfest, in which the main characters' political and philosophical outlooks are explored and tested in the fire of inter-friendship conflict. It's a container for the pain of the black experience in America, but also for the diversity of that experience. Hovering over the whole thing is the threat, and sometimes the reality, of violence. It's intense, moving and relevant, and I was gripped throughout.
Nearly an hour in, though, I realised I had no shirts for the morning, so I set up the iron and ironing board in a low position in front of the TV and had at it. We have a busy household in which there is seldom time for ironing, so I was quite proud of myself for effective time management and was therefore surprised and upset when, halfway through my first shirt, Zanna paused the movie and told me I was ruining her movie experience and being "disrespectful". I said "Please just let me iron!" in a wheedling tone, because I didn't have a better argument. I compromised by turning off the steam function and only ironed two shirts and one pair of pants before turning it off, but I could see she hadn't really forgiven me.
The truth was it was a perfect movie for ironing, because it was for listening more than for watching. I knew no Transformer was going to make a surprise entrance and start firing lasers out its butt. What mattered were the words, and occasionally the music. The final scene, with the camera tight on Leslie Odom Jr as Cooke as he sings A Change is Gonna Come, is almost impossibly poignant. Its message of hope amidst suffering was written 56 years ago. What has become of the hope?
Listening is the most important thing. That's something white America has long failed to do, and is still failing to do, but they're not the only ones.
One Night in Miami is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.