Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2020

One Night in Miami (2020)

Image is property of Amazon Studios

One Night in Miami – Film Review

Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr,

Director: Regina King

Synopsis: Over the course of one night in Miami, four icons of the movement meet in Miami to discuss the movement and their influences over the movement…

Review: It was the movement that defined a generation. From its beginnings in the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement rallied against the segregation and the oppression of a society that was (and still is) built upon racism and prejudice in the United States. It was an integral, galvanising force that inspired people all across America to take a stand and protest against the oppressive nature of a society that was built against them. Like every influential movement, there were numerous charismatic and powerful leaders who were looking to make the world a better place, whether it be through their arts, sports, or campaigning against social injustice. While many of these leaders will have undoubtedly met at numerous points throughout history, what might have happened had four members of this movement got together over the course of one evening has been brought to life in an emotional manner, through the directorial debut of Academy Award winner Regina King.

The year is 1964, and Miami, Florida is the backdrop for this extraordinary meeting. A number of influential figures of the movement have gathered in the city: Malcolm X (Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Odom Jr) and Jim Brown (Hodge) have all gathered to witness Cassius Clay (Goree) participate in a boxing match. As the match ends with Clay victorious, the four men gather in a hotel room to celebrate. Over the course of the evening, they discuss their lives, careers, and the roles and impact that each of them are having in the Civil Rights movement, with particular focus being on an imminent announcement that Malcolm X and Clay are poised to make.

For a film that predominantly is set in one small confined space, there’s a limited amount of room for these actors to express themselves. However, thanks to the immensely powerful screenplay from Kemp Powers, and the incredible performances that these actors give, that the confined space of the hotel room setting, for the most part, doesn’t hinder the film. Furthermore, it is no secret that in 2020, vital conversations and protests have taken place concerning race and equality. Powers’s screenplay draws striking and essential parallels between the two time periods. For each one of these actors, playing someone so connected and deeply rooted in the history of the United States, is far from an easy ask for any actor. It is a substantial challenge that every actor takes on, and it is to their immense credit, that each of them meets this challenge in truly spectacular fashion.

Taking on the role of Malcolm X, a role that was performed so memorably by Denzel Washington, was perhaps the hardest ask for any member of this cast. Yet Kingsley Ben-Adir, makes the role his own, playing Malcolm X with sincere belief and conviction. Cassius Clay was a man and an athlete that certainly had no shortage charisma and confidence, and Eli Goree imbues his portrayal of this legend with these qualities in abundance. Yet at the same time, there are moments where there’s a hint of doubt creeping in. Leslie Odom Jr’s talents as a singer and a performer have certainly been demonstrated by his work on Hamilton, and he replicates that with his excellent portrayal of Sam Cooke, bringing a suave charm to the role of iconic musician. While his role may not be as showy or vocal as those of his counterparts, Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown, brings a coolness and level-headedness to the conversation.

Having shown numerous times what a force to be reckoned with she is in front of the camera, Regina King’s makes that transition from actor to director seamlessly. The small confines of the hotel room in which the most crucial part of the film takes place could have been a hindrance to King as she tells this story. However, as the conversation between the men flows, and passions rise, she finds clever ways to use the camera to illustrate the power struggle that is going in the room between these charismatic individuals. They may be extremely powerful individuals in their own respective fields, but each one of them are facing struggles, struggles that are shaping not just their lives, but the lives of all the people in the Civil Rights Movement.

As they talk about the movement, and how each of them is doing what they can to bring about significant change. It’s a striking and powerful conversation that goes beyond the movement at the time, as it continues to have ripple effects in today’s society. Fictionalised though the events of this film maybe, it’s a credit to each and every one of these excellent performances, and the strength and emotional weight of what’s being told on screen, that one can easily connect the dots between the era of the Civil Right Movement, and to the movements of the present day that also have no shortage of charismatic and powerful leaders who are resolute in their belief to bring about substantial and meaningful change.

Though it takes its time to find its feet narratively, Regina King’s directorial debut packs a powerful punch thanks to the outstanding performances, and an emotionally powerful screenplay.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

Harriet (2019)

Image is property of Focus Features and Perfect World Pictures

Harriet – Film Review

Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Joe Alwyn, Leslie Odom Jr, Janelle Monáe, Clarke Peters

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Synopsis: A look at the life of Harriet Tubman, who after escaping the cruelty of slavery, becomes a leading figure in the fight against its abolition…

Review: There’s no getting away from the fact that slavery in the 1800s represents one of the darkest points in human history. While this period was full of appalling atrocities committed against human beings, even in such troubling times, such powerful and uplifting stories can be brought to light. Stories of amazing courage and perseverance, stories that deserve and, arguably need to be brought to a wider audience, and one such example of this, is the amazing inspirational story of Harriet Tubman.

Having spent her entire life in slavery, Harriet strives to breath the free air. When an attempt to secure her freedom, via legal methods, is vehemently rejected, she senses that she might face severe punishment for trying to secure her freedom. Fearing for her safety, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She bravely runs away in a desperate bid to secure her freedom, which proves to be successful. Upon gaining her freedom, she makes it her mission to liberate slaves from their masters, and becomes a leader in the abolitionist movement to end this cruel and barbaric practice.

Having burst onto the scene in 2018 with Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale, Cynthia Erivo demonstrated her considerable talents to audiences the world over. However with this role, she produces an astonishing, career best performance. She imbues Harriet with a strong willed fearlessness, and a resolute determination in her mission to win her freedom. This doesn’t waiver in her later exploits, as she uses this tenacity and bravery to go out and strive to position to free as many of the people that have fallen into slavery as she possibly can. It is her movie and she carries it magnificently. Outside of Erivo’s sublime performance, Leslie Odom Jr is solid as an abolitionist ally and Joe Alwyn as Harriet’s slave master, has the callous and nasty personality you’d expect from a slave master. On the other hand, though she’s also is on reliably good form, Janelle Monae’s character could definitely have done with more screen time.

The screenplay’s approach to its subject matter, written by Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard, doesn’t really break any new ground for the biopic genre. However, this doesn’t act as a hindrance to the film, simply because, the incredible circumstances that surround the story of this remarkable woman are more than enough to craft a compelling story on their own merit. With a story that consistently manages to be riveting throughout, the approach taken by Lemmons through the script and her direction, does Harriet Tubman’s remarkable story justice. When a story has this much power behind it, it doesn’t need to reinvent the biopic genre, but instead honours this remarkable woman whose exploits deserve to be well known across the world.

With films such as 12 Years A Slave and now Harriet, these powerful dramas serve to remind everyone about the painful nature of the horrors that this institution brought upon so many people. However, they also serve as a powerful reminder that through sheer perseverance, grit and determination, anyone, no matter who they are, can accomplish anything they set their mind to. Furthermore, truly remarkable feats that end up changing the course of human history will absolutely stand the test of time.

With a sublime lead performance from Cynthia Erivo at its core, Harriet is a compelling and rewarding drama that pays tribute to an influential figure in American history, and honours her extraordinary legacy.