The Reel Review
This Amazon original movie is a fictionalized account of an actual February 25, 1964 gathering by four black icons of that era – Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Muhammed Ali (then Cassius Clay) and Jim Brown – at the segregated Hampton House Motel in Miami to celebrate Ali’s hours-old reign as the world’s new heavyweight boxing champion. Kemp Powers’ screenplay, about these four men at the apex of their careers and facing major life changes, is based on his own 2013 stage play.
Oscar-winning actress Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), in her film directorial debut, illustrates that she is an actor’s director, giving her cast the freedom to breathe in their performances. And her cast does just that, from Kingsley Ben-Adir capturing Malcolm X’s urgency in improving the plight of black Americans, Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton), in his incredible vocal stylings of Sam Cooke and Eli Goree capturing Muhammed Ali’s accent, humor and energy. Earlier in the film, Aldis Hodge’s face tells the tale of the era’s blatant racism in a scene set in Jim Brown’s hometown of St. Simons, Georgia with Beau Bridges.
Not surprisingly, at times the film’s action feels a bit claustrophobic, constrained by its adherence to the original stage play format, but just the insight into what these icons could have discussed on that fateful night is fascinating, especially since two of them (Malcolm X and Sam Cooke) both would be violently killed within a year.
• Jim Brown, at age 84, is the only surviving member of the foursome featured in the film.
• Sam Cooke was killed at a Los Angeles motel in December 1964 just prior to the release of his civil rights protest anthem, “A Change is Gonna Come.”
• On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated during a speech in New York, two days after disclosing that the Nation of Islam was trying to kill him. Three of the group’s members were sentenced to life in prison for the slaying.