Criterion Review: ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI and the Powerful Weight of Legacy

An astonishingly well-crafted feature debut by Regina King comes to Criterion Blu

In One Night in Miami, we visit four legendary black icons—Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.)—on the evening of Ali’s boxing victory over Sonny Liston in 1964. While Lyndon B. Johnson is in office, the Voting Rights Act has yet to be signed, and within the year, two of these men will be killed. But where most biopics would spend far too much time on the contextual fringes bookending this climactic evening, One Night in Miami is rooted in the fierce dramatic immediacy of these vital hours, revealing the spirits perpetually at combat within these men as well as among each other. Whether they’ve chosen so or not, they each have become figureheads of the larger Civil Rights movement—and each of them wears that mantle with wildly contrasting degrees of humility, pride, reluctance, anger, and resolution.

The evening is pivotal for each of the men for reasons far beyond what’s at hand. Muhammad Ali, in his last days as Cassius Clay, stands at the precipice of joining the Nation of Islam. His mentor, Malcolm X, struggles with leaving that same group, with both men preparing to upend the careers that brought them international renown and infamy. NFL star Jim Brown is about to do the same with his football career as he pivots into work as a film actor, embarking on new territory while still remaining in the ever-judgmental public eye; though white men bestow a value upon Brown as a football player, pivoting to acting could allow him potential financial, creative, and physical freedom. Singer Sam Cooke, still climbing the charts but fresh off a disastrous night at the Copacabana, wrestles with the same vital choice of publicly allying himself with “the Cause,” as Malcolm intones throughout, and risking his current public adoration and control over his career for a movement that has brought his friends so much scrutiny and rejection.

Each of these men are stars in their own right, each meaning something extremely important for people of all races who idolize them. They each possess a power very few others do in 1964. But none of these men have quite faced anything like this singular confrontation with one another. Together, they reckon with their own shortcomings, failures, and dreams in the company of those who know them most, the only other Black titans of industry who know the weight of their particular struggle.

Actor Regina King’s directorial debut feature is nothing short of confident and measured. One Night in Miami is a film that examines the power of these men’s legacies through the lens of how they struggled to create them. The close of the film acknowledges the measure of martyrdom in the name of brotherhood, but none of these men are prepared for the kinds of sacrifices they might face, let alone consider themselves wholly willing to make such selfless acts. In showcasing these four heroes’ selfishness and humanity, King and the film’s screenwriter, playwright Kemp Powers, avoid the glorification such a story could have in another’s hands. Regardless of their stature in history, each man is painted with flaws aplenty. Their decisions, though they may impact millions of people, are theirs alone to make, and King and Powers recognize the titanic weight they struggle to bear. None of them wants the choices ahead of them, but does anyone?

One Night in Miami revels in the humor, hubris, and humility that fuels every step of their decision-making process, with each scene fueled by minutiae that historians will later imbue with the magnitude they must have. Ben-Adir, Odom, Jr., Goree, and Hodge play more into the spirit of these men rather than skew tightly to theatrical impersonations, allowing audiences to appreciate these figures as interesting and effective people first, with their historical importance a welcome and necessary second. What’s crucial about their performances, and King’s film at large, is how these men allow a vulnerability to exist amongst each other that the public almost expects them to somehow do without. Malcolm, outwardly a steadfast champion of civil rights, is full of doubt; Clay is full of youthful vigor, but comes to realize how a single impulsive decision has long-lasting weight; Brown, stoic and headstrong, is slightly embarrassed yet proud of his decision to stand further in the spotlight on his own terms; and Cooke, ever a showman, doubts just how powerful his voice can be if someone may reject it at any given moment. Together, they realize how human they really are—but they also help each other recognize that their humanity allows them to be world-changers in the eyes of others.

Continuing Criterion’s fruitful collaboration with Amazon Studios, their package of One Night in Miami champions an important touchstone in Civil Rights cinema, and brings King into the Collection as the fourth of what should undeniably be many more Black women directors among their ranks.

(King joins Euzhan Palcy’s A Dry White Season, Dee Rees’ Pariah, and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Love & Basketball.)


Criterion presents One Night in Miami in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio, with both the video and 5.1-channel surround audio tracks sourced from the original 4K digital master files.

One of the benefits of One Night in Miami’s modern digital workflow is that absent a UHD transfer, this is quite possibly the best Regina King’s film can look. What’s more, as an Amazon film released on physical media like fellow releases Cold War and Time, Criterion’s pristine transfer of One Night in Miami isn’t beholden to variable buffering rates, ensuring it maintains constant quality throughout the film. The rich, vibrant colors of the reproduced Hampton House and the period clothing strongly pop as much as the individualized dialogue complexly layered in the sound mix. A lack of film grain helps this fictionalized piece of history feel as organic and real as possible, as does a strong balance between Kemp Powers’ dialogue and the foley work used to create the unseen yet perpetually present world outside of the Hampton House room where the film is set.

Special Features:

  • An Essential Collaboration: Director Regina King and screenwriter Kemp Powers discuss their working relationship in-depth with critic Gil Robertson, ranging from the origins of Powers’ original play, the development and revision process for the stage, how this process differed for the screen adaptation, and finally how King and Powers ensured One Night in Miami was as cinematic as possible to retain the power of its stage origins without feeling beholden to them.
  • Becoming a Director: An incredible conversation between Regina King and fellow actor/director Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Harriet) recaps King’s career as an actor working in TV and film (227, Jerry Maguire, Boyz n the Hood, Poetic Justice, The Leftovers, Watchmen) and how her experiences as an actor fostered the drive and skills of her directorial efforts. The conversation truly comes alive when Lemmons and King connect in their shared experience of being an actor directing actors, and the thrill of unexpected editing decisions can wholly reshape a film.
  • Regina King and Barry Jenkins: Originally recorded as part of The Director’s Cut — A Director’s Guild of America Podcast, King reunites with her former If Beale Street Could Talk director Barry Jenkins to discuss her journey towards the material, the material she’s attracted to as a director, her working relationship with screenwriter/playwright Kemp Powers, how she endeavored to “take the titles away” from her iconic subjects, the careful tact of expressing directorial intention without being overbearing, and the practical methods of shooting on set and on location as contrasted between their films. It’s a thrilling VC conversation recorded at the peak of COVID and quarantine, and even in a virtual setting, King and Jenkins’ personal and professional friendship shines throughout.
  • Building Characters: Regina King anchors a discussion with Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom, Jr., Eli Goree, and Aldis Hodge on how each actor approached bringing to life their respective historical icons as well as bringing them down to Earth by unrelentingly showing their all-too-human flaws and faults. Also discussed is how the chemistry between the actors organically developed over the course of production, and how King worked with her collaborators to carefully chart the evolution of the characters over the course of the film’s near-real-time runtime.
  • Sound Design: Grammy-winning producer Nick Baxter and One Night in Miami’s re-recording mixer/sound editor Andy Hay and production sound mixer Paul Ledford discuss the unique challenges of crafting the aural soundscape of the film. The team painstakingly re-recorded each of Sam Cooke’s three-track-recorded songs in the film with period equipment for a more complex 5.1-surround mix, and took great pains to isolate recordings of each actor’s dialogue on-set using lavalier, boom, and strategically-planted set mics to create a more dynamic playing field in post-production, bringing the sonic elements of the film’s tension to the fore.
  • Making One Night in Miami: Created by Criterion exclusively for this release, director King, screenwriter/playwright Powers, producer Jody Klein, editor Tariq Anwar, director of photography Tami Reiker, costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuk, and set decorator Janessa Hitsman recap what drove them to adapt this play, and how their unique contributions to King’s film resulted in a wholly realistic, vulnerable, and energetic screen adaption.
  • Trailer for One Night in Miami’s theatrical release.
  • Booklet featuring an essay by Newsday film and jazz critic Gene Seymour which delves into the historical contexts of the film, its inspirations, and the original play, ranging from the Civil Rights movement, the election of Barack Obama, and the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin. The essay centers One Night in Miami as its own unique turning point in the ever-evolving conversation of race and civil rights in America, much like the subject matter it features.

One Night in Miami is now available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

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