My favorite thing about movies is the ability to make me feel any emotion. Being transported to another world and caring about someone who often doesn’t even exist is such a thrill, and it’s accomplished through great characters and stories. Usually arrogance is a trait that people don’t like, but Eli Goree pulls it off as One Night In Miami’s Cassius Clay in the most desirable way.
Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, was quite the character in his day. He rose to fame as a professional boxer and later became an activist. One Night In Miami gives a fictionalized account of Clay meeting with friends Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) who gathered to celebrate Clay’s win over heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. In an interview with CinemaBlend, Eli Goree revealed how he made his portrayal of the self-centered Cassius Clay so likable.
You know what? I gotta say that’s just his unique ability. I wish I had that ability in my own life. Something about the way he speaks and the way he is bold and transparent and vulnerable and honest, and the way he backs up what he says. I think some combination of all of that. It just ingratiates him to people. People love him. I mean, I think, it’s funny you picked up on that because I think the same thing all the time. Like, ‘man this guy is so self-centered’ but at the same time he’s not, because he loves other people just as much as he loves himself. I think that’s maybe what works or what makes it click.
That makes complete sense. While Cassius Clay may display pompous or conceited qualities at times, it’s the fact that he truly cares about others just as much as himself that makes him so likable. Eli Goree’s performance as Clay is captivating, the way he commands attention every time he’s on screen the way Clay did whenever he entered a room, but it’s never rude or overbearing. It’s simply, he’s here and he has important things to say, and people listen.
One Night In Miami also details some of Clay’s journey of converting to Islam and learning from his good friend Malcolm X. This shows a softer side of Cassius Clay, where boxing was fully his domain but religion was an area where he had to step back and take guidance, following another’s lead. Eli Goree is excellent in every scene, whether he’s physically fighting, having an argument, or processing through an internal battle.
The audience feels the weight of every emotion Cassius Clay experiences because Eli Goree delivers them so well. We want this character to succeed every step of the way, even if he’s being a little cocky, he still deserves the attention and to have his voice heard. People are drawn to this character in the film just as they were to Cassius Clay in real life. As Goree mentioned, Clay was a transparent and vulnerable man. These are traits that many aspire to have, and part of what is so magnetic about him in the film as well. This is only Goree’s third credit in a feature film, and I don’t think there could have been a better casting match for this role.