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One Night in Miami First Reviews: Can Regina King Do No Wrong?

Critics say the Oscar-winning actress's feature directorial debut is a powerful, well-acted, timely film that promises a bright future for her behind the camera.

by | September 14, 2020 | Comments

One of the first big buzzed-about movies of the 2020 film festival is One Night in Miami, which marks the feature directorial debut of Oscar-winning actress Regina King, and there’s already talk of her being a contender for the Academy Award for Best Director (she’d be the first Black woman nominated in the category). Much of that praise and recognition of its foursome of ensemble players comes from the first reviews of the drama out of the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, but the overall reception of the film’s adaptation from the stage  — based on Kemp Powers’ play about Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Muhammad Ali (then still known as Cassius Clay) interacting in a hotel room in 1964 — is still overwhelmingly positive.

Here’s what critics are saying about One Night in Miami:


How is Regina King’s work behind the camera?

King proves to be a gifted director of actors.
– Kevin Maher, The Times

It’s really no surprise that King’s first major feature is a home run… her lens is one that brings out the best of all her leads and portrays them in a sympathetic light.
– Adriana Gomez-Weston, We Live Entertainment

Regina King stands apart from many of her actor-turned-director peers… she’s opening what promises to be an exciting new chapter in an enduring career.
– Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

Here’s hoping that King, one of our most consistently excellent screen actors, continues to spread her wings in this direction.
– David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

If this is what we can expect from a Regina King movie, then sign me up for the rest of her portfolio.
Jamie Broadnax, Black Girl Nerds


How is Kemp Powers’ adaptation of his own play?

One Night in Miami is… a strong argument for Powers’ medium-crossing skills.
Kate Erbland, IndieWire

The fact that these four are unwinding in a motel room, matching wits and ideas and teasing out their underlying rivalries, never feels like a conceit.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

What is brilliant about One Night in Miami is the script. The dialogue cuts you to the core, and there are scenes that will stick with you long after you finish watching.
Jamie Broadnax, Black Girl Nerds

Kemp Powers adapts his own stage play to form the screenplay for Regina King’s One Night in Miami – he just doesn’t adapt it enough.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist


One Night in Miami

Ryan Fujitani

Does it feel like a stage production?

It’s clear in parts that this is taken from a stage work, but King really elevates it to true “film” status, unlike some other stage-to-screen projects.
Trey Mangum, Shadow and Act

They do a fantastic job of making you not feel that you’re locked in this room… this film was meant for the big screen.
Sharronda Williams, Pay or Wait

This is undeniably a very theatrical film, but it never hides that – indeed, it makes the most of a certain claustrophobia.
Jonathan Romney, Guardian

When we’re in that small hotel room, with four outsize characters pacing out their tightly choreographed marks… we quickly start to wonder when the curtain’s going to fall.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

King and Powers’ treatment of that outstanding premise hasn’t quite made the leap from stage play to big-screen film; it has landed in TV-movie territory instead.
Nicholas Barber, BBC


Are the new scenes worthy additions?

King has opened up the action in the best possible way, mixing in scenes set outside the motel room… that show us the characters on their own, confronting what racism looked like in 1964.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

There is an electrifying scene in which Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) quells a hostile audience with a version of “Chain Gang.”
Geoffrey Macnab, Independent

The scenes are useful in a beginner’s guide sense, but largely feel like optional extras, and it’s only when the quartet comes together that the film begins to cook.
Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph


Are the conversations compelling?

The film’s riveting debates are as rousing as any sporting encounter.
Shane Slater, The Spool

One Night in Miami is a casually entrancing debate about power on the part of those who have won it but are still figuring out what to do with it.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

One Night in Miami is funny. The quartet endearingly rib each other at every point and there are some true laugh out loud moments.
Robert Daniels, 812filmreviews

It’s refreshing to see a movie in which the characters aren’t right or wrong, but offering different takes—sometimes argumentatively—about what the fight means to them.
Ruben Safaya, Cinemalogue

The conversation is, of itself, often fascinating, even when it’s at its most didactic.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist


One Night in Miami

(Photo by ©Amazon)

Is it moving?

The great thing about it is that it has a whole lot of heart…the group’s camaraderie, brotherhood, love and emotion delivers in full.
Trey Mangum, Shadow and Act

The film adds some emotional intensity to its academic interest.
Nicholas Barber, BBC

Against the odds, the film has an emotional kick.
Geoffrey Macnab, Independent

King and Powers aren’t attempting to offer a precise historical transcription of whatever happened… One Night in Miami provides is something richer: an emotionally accurate telling.
Kate Erbland, IndieWire

One Night in Miami moved my spirit in ways that left me speechless, honored and, in a strange way, hopeful that a whole new generation will now be introduced to Black royalty and Black men who were classy, smart, charming and most of all Black AND Proud.
Carla Renata, The Curvy Film Critic


How is the ensemble?

One of the year’s best acting showcases.
Kate Erbland, IndieWire

Sensational. All four [actors] burrow their way into the psyche of these legends, into their manners and contradictions and vulnerabilities.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

Their jostling performance styles make each combination of voices feels like its own distinct treat.
Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

Even if some of the in-the-room scenes might drag a little, the performances keep the proceedings lively.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap


Are there any standouts?

Kingsley Ben-Adir is a standout in his role as Malcolm X… Simmering with a quiet intensity, [he] takes this feature to the next level.
Adriana Gomez-Weston, We Live Entertainment

The towering performance that centers the nuanced ensemble work is British actor Ben-Adir’s laser-focused, quietly impassioned Malcolm.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

With Leslie Odom Jr. making a big impression in the ostensibly lesser role of Sam Cooke… this versatile actor sings and acts his way into awards play.
Fionnuala Halligan, Screen International

Relative newcomer Goree oozes charisma in a star-making moment, making great use of every moment he is on-screen.
Trey Mangum, Shadow and Act

Goree’s mannerisms, tone, inflection, and scene-stealing moments as Ali are enough in this writer’s opinion to warrant him awards consideration.
Jamie Broadnax, Black Girl Nerds

MVP Aldis Hodge, interpreting rather than imitating his character, [delivers] the film’s most magnetic performance as a result.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

Aldis Hodge is simply perfection.
Carla Renata, The Curvy Film Critic


One Night in Miami

(Photo by ©Amazon)

Do the film’s portrayals do justice to the historical figures?

One Night in Miami (and both King and Powers) exhibits great affection for its central characters, but it never feels like a hagiographic exercise.
Kate Erbland, IndieWire

One Night In Miami positions Malcolm X as more troubled and unsure than his usual onscreen persona… at times, even, he seems more human, even weakened.
Fionnuala Halligan, Screen International

The characters, loosened up by a few drinks and the pleasure of their camaraderie, reveal who they are — not just what they think and feel, but how they think and feel it — in a way that even a lot of good biopics never quite find the room for.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

There is something very slightly diminishing about further lionizing these already legendary icons of Black excellence at the expense of all the other people.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

The film does its subjects a disservice by not allowing them a little more zest and irreverence.
Nicholas Barber, BBC


Is this film a timely one?

This half-century-old discussion of race, celebrity and activism in the United States often feels as if it could have taken place last week.
Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

Powers makes a convincing case for an organic debate in which the stakes are personal for each of the participants and the issues no less relevant today.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

King succeeds at turning a property with a number of potential wrong turns into a vibrant historical tale tackling issues and controversies that remain tragically relevant nearly 60 years later.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

It’s an immensely watchable evocation of a moment when Black America was on the verge of an upheaval that continues to resonate, in 2020 as strongly as ever.
Jonathan Romney, Guardian

These men in their respective lanes are righteous and unapologetically powerfully Black in ways we may not have been able to recognize in 1964 but has become so crystal clear in 2020.
Carla Renata, The Curvy Film Critic

I just love seeing positive Black male friendships, positive Black male interactions on screen. These are the images hat we should continue to be able to see in media.
Sharronda Williams, Pay or Wait


One Night in Miami premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 7, 2020.

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