‘ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI’
It’s rare that a film can be poignant, smart, endearing, and utterly entrancing, but ‘One Night in Miami’ is all of these things and more. The film centers on a fictionalized night after Cassius Clay (shortly before he changed his name to Mohammed Ali) has won the world championship boxing match against Sonny Liston, when four friends —Cassius, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Malcolm X — gather to celebrate, only to spend “one strange f–king night” arguing about the nature of power, celebrity, and the best way to fight for freedom in a heavily racist world.
The film opens with introductions to all four leads before their stories converge in Miami, and each opening vignette gives a strong glimpse of the men we’ll follow through the movie. The casting is perfect and every one of the leads delivers a brilliant performance. Kingsley Bin-Adir (‘Peaky Blinders,’ ‘The Comey Rule’), whom I had not seen before, is a revelation as Malcolm X, fiery and awkward, abrasive and endearing. Leslie Odom Jr.’s (‘Hamilton’) Sam Cooke is a perfect foil to him, smooth except when up against his sandpaper, as Sam says. Aldis Hodge (‘Hidden Figures’) as Jim Brown is quieter but powerful, with scenes that pack as much punch as Cassius Clay does. And Eli Goree (‘Ballers,’ ‘Riverdale’) as Clay exudes energy and charm, and certainty and indecision both at once.
Regina King’s direction — of what amounts to two hours of conversation, but is so much more — is always interesting and engaging, drawing the viewer into the foursome’s debate and into the internal world of these iconic men.
Each of the actors commands attention, but King’s framing holds it. This is truly a masterpiece.
It would be difficult to watch this movie without thinking about the relevance to the moment we are currently in. And really, that is what is most powerful about stories, isn’t it? Especially historical stories. We can see how things outside of our time or place reflect back on the world we live in. But so much of this story is still our current world.
“There is no room for anyone to be standing on the fence anymore,” Malcolm says, and as true as it was then, it is also true now. The scene quoted there brought to mind the Angela Davis quote, also as true now as ever, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.”
[Suggested Emojis: thumbs up, heart]
‘PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN’
“Promising Young Woman” is not a movie that can easily be distilled for review purposes, and saying it’s good, bad or worth watching isn’t a clean-cut call for me to make. The Sundance 2020 hit promises a morally muddy thriller of a woman enacting serial retribution on a field of self-proclaimed “gentlemen” inflicted with what I like to consider “fedoras of the soul syndrome.”
With its slick, claustrophobic opening and knife’s edge dialogue, writer/director Emerald Fennel paints a revenge fantasy dripping with “Dexter”-esque, morality-bending stakes wrapped in a John Wick ribbon. But “Promising Young Woman” is more along the lines of say, “Three Billboards over Ebbing, Missouri,” with flimsier logic on some of the plot developments and a starkly jarring tonal shift in the final act that left me more than a little wrecked, emotionally. It’s a dark comedy, sure, but there’s a palpable shift from techno-pop revenge fantasy to a quieter, more insidious and disturbingly grounded look at violence — in particular, at violence against women.
That being said, “Promising Young Woman” is pulse-poundingly entrancing. Carrie Mulligan is incandescent as Cassie, a cunningly clever woman, long gripped by grief, who on the surface is spinning her wheels years after dropping out of med school following the sexual assault of a friend. In her spare time, Cassie lures in potential rapists under the guise of being too drunk to function, spending her evenings exacting her brand of vigilante justice by acting incapacitated at a series of bars and clubs. When a name from her college life stirs the long over-steeped rage boiling inside her, Cassie sets out to enact a methodical, often hair-raising plan of retribution on anyone connected to the events surrounding the assault of her now-deceased childhood best friend, Nina.
Mulligan owns every square inch of this movie, delving deep to deliver emotional resonance with mesmerizing nuance, even when the script doesn’t necessarily offer any.
The casting is brilliant and calculated, with possibly the best use of “meta casting” I’ve seen in a while. “Promising Young Woman” is packed with familiar, beloved faces from comedy and mid-Ought’s teen drama world — Adam Brody (“The OC”), Chris Lowell (“Veronica Mars”), Alison Brie (“Community”), Bo Burnham (numerous stand-up specials, “Eighth Grade”), Max Greenfield (“New Girl” … and “Veronica Mars”). All of these are actors have spent a decent cache of their careers making audiences swoon, laugh, or relate to them, instilling a certain Pavlovian response when asked to read their presence as “familiar” and “amenable.” Saying any more would absolutely result in spoilers, so I’ll just add that Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black”), Jennifer Coolidge (“Legally Blond”), and Alfred Molina (“Spider Man 2”) all leave huge impressions with their excellent performances, with Molina in particular standing out in his barely five minutes of screen time.
This isn’t a story of emotional healing, and despite it’s trappings, it’s also not one of unmitigated, fairytale revenge — though it sometimes muddies the waters when addressing this. “Promising Young Woman” is a slow-motion train collision. It’s a star imploding. It’s an exploration of grief-fueled, mutually assured destruction as the means to a bitter end resulting in a slew of emotions I was ill-prepared for — so tread carefully.
Though I am someone who consumes a monumental amount of true crime in podcasts and documentaries, I was still taken aback by how hard the final act affected me.
With its taught, fraught editing and fever-pitch performances, “Promising Young Woman” is a hefty feast of a film that take plenty of massive swings that don’t always connect, but kept me rapt from start to end. Flawed and fascinating, troubling and tense, “Promising Young Woman” is a movie I struggle to talk about even days after the credits rolled. A special shout-out to the truly choice musical selections, in particular that tense string arrangement of Britney Spear’s “Toxic” and the surprisingly apt integration of Paris Hilton’s “Stars are Blind,” the latter of which has been stuck in my head for literal days.
Thanks for that.
[Suggested Emojis: Shocked Face, Question Mark]