The first Bonafied major contender for the 2021 Oscars season brought in “One Night in Miami” from director Regina King, her first film behind the camera. With all the goodness encountered during the 110-minute runtime, the play is set to go much further in this year’s award race.
The release of Amazon Studios tells the story of an incredible night where Muhammad Ali (Ellie Gore), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Sam Cook (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) gather after losing to Ali . Liston in February 1964. The fictional account follows the four landmarks as they discuss the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Two years ago, Regina King overcame Oscar figures to win her first Academy Award for Barry Jenkins. Winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, King did so without a SAG or BAFTA nomination, only Marcia Gay Harden (“Pollock”) has been able to do in the modern awards era. Setting the stage for a very long, unpredictable season, King’s emotionally charged and lively adaptation to this stage play is surprisingly restrained.
Showing incredible control over the subject, the king never let the story get away from him. Not stepping into the director’s chair as a gimmick, he pays careful attention to the stories of the four men and the creation of a world for the viewer.
Only five women have made it to the Oscar lineup for Best Director in their 92-year history. However, a black woman is yet to be shortlisted despite the lack of filmmakers in contention – including Ava DuVernay for “Selma” and Dee Rees for “Mudbird”. As the academy continues to expand its membership, and with a strong strong support coming from Amazon, King can make history.
The chemistry between the four actors is completely convincing. You believe that these icons are friends, sharing mutual love and brotherhood, even if there is disagreement. Screenwriter Kemp Powers, who adopts his stage drama, extends the setting beyond the hotel room where the stage is produced. The film never feels like a stage drama, examining the world that surrounds it. Powers must find himself in the race for customized screenplay. With the screenwriting of the upcoming “Soul”, Pixar’s new original story, Kemp, has the chance to be the first black screenwriter to be nominated for an original and adapted screenplay Oscar in the same year. Francis Ford Coppola was the last person to have dual nominations in both categories for “The Conversation” and “The Godfather Part II” in 1974.
Ben-Adir, Gore, Hodge and Odom Jr., a leading candidate for the SAG Awards’ top award for Best Ensemble, are sensationally effective, giving each other significant support in their roles. One has to travel fast through different parts of the film citing a deadlock. The first third is owned by Muhammad Ali as a high-minded, energetic turn of the whites. Having big shoes to fill as Will Smith received his first Oscar nomination for playing the famed boxer in 2001’s “Ali”, whites are equally impressed, if not better, because every line Their dedication to fulfill is very deliciously received.
Hodge Jim Brown is much more reserved, taking a portion of the backseat at times, but still showing impressive restraint. A year after making his mark in the underrated and underseered “Clemency”, he continues to produce an extraordinary resume.
A scene with Kingsley-Adir’s Malcolm X and Odom Jr.’s Sam Cooke is one of the most spoiled film scenes of the year, both performing a masterclass of vocal sparse. Similar to the Whites’ dilemma, Kingsley-Adir’s portrayal differs mainly from Daniel Washington’s 1992 all-time depiction of a human rights activist in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X”. He slips through Malcolm’s internal struggle as he wrestles with the faith and brings his relationship with Elijah Muhammad to his own simple nature.
Odom Jr. is already having a bang year, standing out in “Hamilton” which premiered on Disney Plus in July. The Disney Awards team has plans on an Academy Award campaign for music, despite reporting that it is not eligible, it will be interesting to see if he will be able to find a singular voice for his opportunities this year. No decision has yet been made on the category campaign for any of the men in “One Night in Miami”.
A true ensemble, there is no definite leadership for the king’s soulful drama. It is to be expected that all the men will compete in the supporting actor – compared to the “spotlight” of 2015, likely to be a different “favorite” for everyone who takes it. But there is also a risk to that strategy: “Spotlight” won the best. The picture, but with only one male actor seen as a nominee (Mark Rafallo), co-stars Michael Keaton and Liv Schreyer would have split the vote. (Of course, Rachel McAdams was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress.)
Moving downstream to “Miami”, some potential love for its production and costume design is expected, as they both flawlessly bridge the audience and time period. On the editing side of the house, Tariq Anwar is at Haldam and is the third time Charm hopes to be in the hunt again. Anwar has two previous Oscar nominations and no wins, despite him having two Best Picture winners (“American Beauty” and “The King’s Speech”).
With its orange color and luscious composition, the work of cinematographer Tami Reiker is well worth considering. To date, only one woman has been nominated for Best Cinematography (Rachel Morrison for “Mudbound”), and this is well past due to more women joining the lineup. Reiker has already extended his lens earlier this year to an extraordinary reception with Netflix’s “The Old Guard” as co-DP with Barry Ackroyd.
“One Night in Miami” will be screened next September 10 at the Toronto International Film Festival.