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Eavesdropping on four famous men’s conversations

‘One Night in Miami,’ Oscar-winning actor Regina King’s directorial debut, is about a fictionalized meeting of Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown at a Miami hotel to celebrate Ali’s world heavyweight boxing title victory over Sonny Liston.

Stephanie Mayo

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Two critically acclaimed dramas that premiered at the 77th Venice International Film Festival in 2020 are now available for streaming in the comfort of your home.

‘One Night in Miami’

One Night in Miami, Oscar-winning actor Regina King’s directorial debut is about a fictionalized meeting of Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown at a Miami hotel to celebrate Ali’s world heavyweight boxing title victory over Sonny Liston.

The particular night is 25 February 1964, when 22-year-old Ali was then named Cassius Clay.

 

‘ONE Night in Miami’ offers a glimpse of what-could-be the conversation between Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown after Ali’s boxing victory over Sonny Liston.

 

Historically, the four men really met one night in a hotel room at the Hampton House. What they talked about, however, remains unknown to this day.

Playwright Kemp Powers imagined their conversation and wrote the script of the 2013 play One Night in Miami.

For her film version, King disregards style and instead delves into the soul of the larger-than-life characters. They are close friends who each holds celebrity status during the civil rights movement — yet are still struggling to be recognized, especially by white people, as human beings.

 

ONLY the four walls of a hotel room in Hampton House knows of the four men’s conversation. / PHOTOGRAPH courtesy of Dean of geek

 

In the four corners of the hotel room, with two Nation of Islam bodyguards eavesdropping outside, there is shouting, laughter and serious talk.

There is heated debate between Nation of Islam spokesperson Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and soul music legend Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr), as National Football League Hall of Famer Jim Brown (a brilliant Aldis Hodge) observe silently, but whose eyes speak as much as the two.

King directs the conversations with an innate sense of when to cut, to pause, to simmer, and to drop the power and gravitas of each man’s sentiments.

The all-night talk is not merely chit-chat, but are dissections of their views of Malcolm X’s militant Black supremacist bent.

Exultant over Clay’s (Eli Goree) win and anticipating the boxing champ’s imminent conversion to the Nation of Islam religion, Malcolm X brings his crusade into his small circle of friends and persuades them to push the Black movement to a wider scale.

As the camera captures the creases of worry, shock, despair and opposing philosophies between the characters, we realize two things: The movement is a complex matter; and that skin color becomes a matter of life and death.

That one night in Miami proves even more emotionally significant because Cooke and Malcom X will be dead in less than a year.

4 out of 5 stars
Premieres today, 15 January, on Amazon Prime Video.

‘Pieces of a Woman’

Kornél Mundruczó’s Pieces of a Woman follows the aftermath of a great tragedy. Directing from Kata Wéber’s screenplay, the Hungarian filmmaker brings to mind 2019’s Oscar-nominated Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story for its sense of contrivance.

But Pieces of a Woman, unlike the dialogue-heavy Marriage Story, is a quiet film. Yet both are an exercise in craft. It’s hard to feel the authenticity of the proceedings when you can discern the effort in shaking the audience to tears.

The 88-year-old Ellen Burstyn’s performance here feels like a lengthy audition.

The tragi-drama aims to give the viewer access to literally pick up the pieces of a broken woman, Martha (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby). After seeing her lose her newborn child, we witness a formulaic (but very real) aftermath: The looming separation between her and partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf) and how Martha’s wealthy mother (Burstyn) is reduced to a whimpering, despairing grandmother.

LABEOUF and Kirby as soon-to-be parents who grapple with loss in ‘Pieces of a Woman.’

 

Despite the film’s pretense, it’s hard to forget. First, the opening scene’s hold-your-breath, 23-minute singular take is astounding.
And then there’s Kirby.

Her performance is the Adam Driver in Marriage Story. You can feel her soul cracking every time she appears in a scene.

She essays a traumatized mother so convincingly that it’s heartbreaking to watch her.

Sarah Snook, in a minor role, matches Kirby in her portrayal of a jaded attorney.

 

VANESSA Kirby plays Martha, a mother who loses her newborn child. / PHOTOGRAPH courtesy of Empire

Meanwhile, LaBeouf, who plays a working-class motormouth, is the opposite — annoying in his generic, messy tears. He feels out of a place in a film that gives more importance to nuances.

This is a tasteful, elegant and delicate drama — as refined as Kirby’s performance and the film’s striking cinematography.

But there are several searing scenes in this tearjerker. I wept a couple of times — it’s got something to do with apples and newly developed photographs.

3 out of 5 stars
Stream on Netflix.

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