“One Night in Miami” opens in theaters this week and streams on Amazon Prime beginning January 15. “The Professor and the Madman” is available on Netflix.
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI
Kemp Powers’ 2013 fictionalized play comes to the screen with excellent direction by Academy Award-winning actress Regina King and powerful performances by Eli Goree as boxer Cassius Clay, Aldis Hodge as NFL star Jim Brown, Leslie Odom, Jr. as singer, songwriter and producer Sam Cooke and Kingsley Ben-Adir as Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X.
On Feb. 25, 1964, these four men meet at Malcolm X’s Miami hotel suite following Clay’s upset defeat of Sonny Liston.
Now the World Champion, the cocky Clay continues to declare “I am the greatest!”
Even though this get-together is supposed to be a celebratory occasion, Malcolm has a more serious agenda. With the World Championship now belonging to Clay, it seems like the perfect time for the boxer to announce his decision to become a Muslim.
Brown and Cooke take Malcolm to task for using Clay to insure his own security as the future top man in the Nation of Islam.
The dialogue remains fascinating as these prominent Black men discuss civil rights and their own leadership roles. Accused of selling out to white power in the music industry, Cooke counters the others by singing his protest song, “A Change is Gonna Come.”
The imagined conversations and controversies make for a provocative and surprisingly timely drama.
THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN
While the writing of a dictionary may not seem like the most involving plot device, this engrossing biographical film concerns more than the aspiration to collect and classify every word in the English language.
“The Professor and the Madman” begins in 18th century England and includes a horrific murder, an amputation, torturous treatments in a madhouse and flashbacks to the gory battlefields of the American Civil War.
Based on the nonfiction book “The Surgeon of Crowthrone: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words” by Simon Winchester and directed by Farhad Safinia, the movie focuses on two men, Professor James Murray (Mel Gibson), the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, and convicted murderer and former American Army surgeon Dr. William Chester Minor (Sean Penn), who was imprisoned at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum after being declared “Not guilty by reason of insanity” in the murder of George Merrett (Shayne Noone).
After Murray asks for the public to supply words for the dictionary, Minor submits more than 10,000 brilliantly researched words from his Broadmoor cell.
Supporting cast members are Eddie Marsan as guard Muncie, Natalie Dormer as Merrett’s widow, Eliza, Jennifer Ehle as Murray’s wife Ada and the mother of their 11 children, Stephen Dillane as alienist or psychiatrist Dr. Richard Brayne and Steve Coogan as Murray’s supporter, Frederick James Furnival.
While some critics have panned “The Professor and the Madman,” it has also been praised because of the performances of Gibson and Penn and as an outstanding historical examination of the strange, but true events surrounding the beginnings of what would be a 70-year quest to complete the Oxford English Dictionary.
Alice Reese is a member of the Dallas Fort Worth Film Critics Association. She reviews movies, arts and entertainment for the Herald-Banner and for KETR.