During a month-old chat between myself and Jordan Ruimy, it was mentioned that Regina King‘s One Night in Miami had just been added to the Venice Film Festival lineup.

Based on a play by Kemp Powers, pic tells a fictionalized account of an actual February 1964 meeting that happened in a Miami Beach hotel room between Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke, as the group celebrates Clay’s surprise title win over Sonny Liston.

“That’s the only title that turns me on,” I remarked. “It’ll rise or fall depending on Eli Goree‘s performance as Clay and Kingsley Ben Adir‘s as Malcolm X. And on the writing, of course.”

Now, to go by early reviews, One Night in Miami is sounding like a serious award-season hottie. Variety‘s Clayton Davis is calling it “the first bonafide major contender for the 2021 Oscars season.

“Setting the stage for a very long, unpredictable season, King’s emotionally charged and vibrant helming of this stage play adaptation is wonderfully restrained,” Davis raves. “[She] never lets the story get away from her. Not stepping into the director’s chair as a gimmick, she pays meticulous attention to the four men’s stories and the world she builds for the viewer.”

Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman: “The appeal of a movie like this one isn’t just that we’re seeing different fabled worldviews pinging off each other. It’s that the characters, loosened up by a few drinks and the pleasure of their camaraderie, reveal who they are — not just what they think and feel, but how they think and feel it — in a way that even a lot of good biopics never quite find the room for. I love Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, but in all three hours of it we don’t see much of the casual, sitting-around-and-shooting-the-breeze Malcolm. Even if you’re as monumental a man as he was, that’s still a lot of what life is.

“All four burrow their way into the psyche of these legends, into their manners and contradictions and vulnerabilities. Goree nails but shrewdly understates the music of Clay’s voice, the insistence that could rise to a lordly bellow, Hodge invests Brown with a seen-it-all wary force, and Leslie Odom Jr., from Hamilton, makes Cooke a supreme paradox: smooth as silk on the surface, roiling underneath. The men we see before us are suffused with their destinies and, at the same time, they’re funny, earthy, relatable people who wear their egos on their sleeves.

One Night in Miami feeds off a moment of transition, and does so movingly. The characters, as presented, are certainly informed by our hindsight view of them — and shadowed by the fact that Malcolm, exactly one year later, would be assassinated (in all likelihood, by forces within the Nation of Islam), and that Sam Cooke would be shot and killed in a motel altercation before the end of 1964.

“Yet the movie has the shrewdness to live in the present tense. It ends with a scene built around a telling, aching rendition of Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come,’ a song that the film suggests grew out of this night in Miami (a historical stretch, but that’s okay). The point is that the song remains as hauntingly relevant to our current moment as it was to the ’60s. Change comes, but it doesn’t just happen — it’s lightning in a bottle, and One Night in Miami captures the flash of what it looks like.”