January 6, 2021 – I was blown away by the brilliance and depth of talent on display in this perfectly cast movie about a fictional 1964 meeting of four African American icons.
This movie is the perfect anecdote to what has been a terrible year economically and culturally. Forces are at work to try and turn back the civil rights clock to the middle of the last century, to protect white privilege and to make sure that people of color are held back. This film gives us a glimpse of what it would be like if people of color had equal opportunities to develop their talents.
This movie, appearing in the midst of a terrible pandemic compounded by deep political and cultural divisions, is remarkable. Directed by a black woman, Regina King (of “If Beale Street Could Talk”) and based on a play written by Kemp Powers (who also happens to be the first African American to direct a Disney animated film, “Soul”).
The cast of this movie is perfect, with Eli Goree playing Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali) opening the film in a boxing scene battling a white prizefighter. Goree (“Race”) looks and acts like the real Mohammed Ali in this film. It is a remarkable impersonation, one of four.
Clay meets with Malcolm X (played by Kingsley Ben-Adir of “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”) in a Miami Beach hotel room immediately prior to, and after his victory over Sonny Liston. After winning the heavyweight championship in an upset, Clay and Malcom X are joined in the same room by football great Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge of “The Invisible Man”) and legendary singer-songwriter Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr. of “Murder on the Orient Express”).
In a wide-ranging discussion about civil rights, religion and racism in America, the four men take turns challenging each other about their respective roles as influential black leaders, and who are better role models. Arguments get heated to the point of physical violence at times.
Malcolm X, who is being followed by the FBI, and who is involved in a dangerous leadership struggle within the Nation of Islam, has two loyal guards posted at the door, the reserved, dignified and imposing Kareem X (Lance Reddick of the “John Wick” movies) and the friendlier, less formal Jamaal (Christian Magby of the TV series “Legacies”) who seeks autographs when Malcolm X and Kareem are not around.
The movie's limitations, being based on a play, are minimized by several scenes that take place outside the motel room. At several points during the film, two of the four main characters are absent from the room, allowing the two remaining characters, and others, like Jamaal, to interact. This provides different ways for the characters to explore their ideas and beliefs.
The dialog is well-written, and the actors make the most of their opportunities. The screenplay also explores the religious differences between the two Muslims, Clay and Malcolm X, compared to the two non-Muslims, Cooke and Brown.
Music is a big part of this movie. Malcolm X plays recordings of Bob Dylan and Sam Cooke to back his arguments about the use of music in changing American society. There are also several scenes depicting Cooke in concert, and singing on NBCs The Tonight Show. Leslie Odom Jr. (a singing and acting star of “Hamilton”) does his own singing, doing a remarkably good imitation of Cooke.
Odom also co-wrote a song with Sam Ashworth, “Speak Now,” that he performs in the movie. It is heard over the film's credits. It is good enough to be in contention for an Academy Award. Broadway singer Jeremy Pope (of the miniseries “Hollywood”) appears in the film as Jackie Wilson, convincingly singing Wilson's hit, “Lonely Teardrops.” Pope's version of the song is also on the movie's soundtrack disc.
The amount of talent on display in this film is overwhelming, but this talent has been overlooked, and will continue to be overlooked by millions of Americans in the past, present, and far into the future. But for we few who have seen it, heard it, experienced it, embraced it, this movie is something we'll never forget. It shows us how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go as a society. Great job by Regina King and the whole cast and crew. This film rates an A.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.