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

If Beale Street Could Talk (2019)

Image is property of AnnaPurna Pictures and Plan B

If Beale Street Could Talk – Film Review

Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna
Pedro Pascal

Director: Barry Jenkins

Synopsis: After finding out she is expecting a baby with her partner, a young woman and her family seek to clear her lover’s name after he is arrested for a crime he did not commit…

Review: What do you do when only your second feature length directorial feature wins you an Academy Award for its screenplay, as well as (eventually) the Academy Award for Best Picture? This was the quandary for Barry Jenkins, the writer/director of Moonlight, having been catapulted him into the spotlight by the film’s incredible success. The answer to that question, is to make something that’s cut from a similar cloth as Moonlight, a story that tells a very human, emotional journey.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by James Baldwin, we are taken back to 1970s Harlem, where we meet Tish (Layne) and Alfonso (or Fonny as Tish affectionately calls him), two beautiful young people who, having been very close as children, have since become a blossoming couple, seemingly made for one another. However, their romantic bubble is burst when when Fonny is arrested and charged with a horrific crime that Tish insists he is innocent of, and Tish and her family must do whatever they can to clear Fonny of these charges.

On the surface, this would appear to be a simple story about the love that two young people have for each other, and the desperate bid to prove her husband-to-be innocent of the crime he is being accused of. And while it is undeniably beautiful and romantic to watch these two fall in love with each other, much like his work with Moonlight Jenkins’s screenplay goes much deeper than that exploring a variety of themes such as racism, family and the brutal horrors of the justice system that can bring such an unfair injustices to Black communities and devastate these families across America, even when people may be innocent of the crimes they are being accused of.

As the main couple, KiKi Layne and Stephan James are both excellent. Their chemistry is just so honest and authentic that you completely buy them as a couple. You revel in their moments of love and affection for one another, and are equally devastated when they are torn away from one another. As Tish’s mother Sharon, Regina King is just utterly marvellous as she leads the fight to win her prospective son-in-law’s freedom, even in the face of extremely long and difficult odds, and indifference from some members of Fonny’s family to Tish’s plight.

The cinematography from James Laxton is once again sumptuous to look out, even when the circumstances may be extremely bleak, his cinematography shines a hopeful light on the situation of this couple. Nicholas Britell also returns to provide the score, and once again, the work he does to add to the romanticism and by contrast, the heartbreak of this story is remarkable. For those who might have had issues with Moonlight’s pacing, they could well run into some issues again here as Jenkins does take his time to slowly build up Tish and Fonny’s relationship. Though some scenes do feel necessary, others do drag on perhaps for a tad longer than they really need to.

For characters depicted in the 1970s, Jenkins’s characters feel very contemporary and the story and the themes are very topical, but the film never gets preachy with the events depicted on screen. It is above all else, a very sweet story about the love two people have for one another, and the challenge that the human spirit faces when facing the going up against the cruel nature of the world and its institutions, Barry Jenkins has once again crafted something that, in these very emotionally charged times, he has made a film that will speak something to everyone who sees it.

Beautiful and melancholic,sometimes in the same shot, with a fantastic ensemble of well realised characters, Jenkins once again crafts a moving tale of love and hope in the face of terrible adversity.