Film and television fans have long recognized the talent that is Regina King. The lady oozes that along with intelligence, passion and integrity. She brings all that to her debut feature film as director. She is not your average first timer though as she has plenty of experience behind the camera directing episodes on television shows like Scandal, Animal Kingdom, This is Us, and Shameless.
Though this is a fictional story, from the play by Kemp Powers, based on a night which actually happened in which African American icons and old friends Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr. – Hamilton, Harriet), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir – from television’s Peaky Blinders), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree – Race, Godzilla – 2014), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge – Hidden Figures, Straight Outta Compton) spending an evening together in Miami after Clay becomes the boxing heavyweight champion of the world there is plenty more going on.
Important things. Timely things. Things that show how important the issue of race relations have been in the United States for fifty years…or hundreds. How important leaders like those four men were and are for the African American community.
The film debuted recently at the Venice film festival and is now screening at TIFF. The buzz is all about. I’m talking about awards buzz. It is well deserved. Once you look beyond the status of the men the story is centered on you will revel in the human story involved. A story which we not only need to see, but totally absorb and understand.
Each man is a leader within the Black community in their own way though they all are carrying burdens. Malcolm X is well aware of the price he and his family are paying for his leading the fight. Clay is not sure what price he will have to pay if he is to come out as a Muslim. Brown was paying a heavy price physically, will probably be undervalued in his burgeoning acting career and realizes he is still thought of as less than by his white fans. Cooke is not respected by white music fans and feels guilty for not having made a stand through his music.
While all four men are given their chance to shine this is really is a moment in the sun for Regina King. She has made sure that everything in the film supports the story. The cinematography, sets, costumes, and music is all fantastic. All this happens without any of it taking over from the message here. Substance is definitely not drowned out by all the style.
The dialogue here is all electric. Whether they are talking or arguing. Beauty, pain, defiance, and power all come out. They take comfort in and confront each other knowing that the others do understand what each is going through. None of the four men is a superstar nor are they rookies. All manage, because they don’t have to fight against the baggage of a large Hollywood personal, to melt into their characters.