Retro Review: Ali

We will learn what made him great and what made him probably the single greatest boxer to ever live.

That is what the advertising and publicity is saying for Michael Mann’s 3-hour opus to boxer Muhammad Ali. Should they be promising so much?

We enter Muhammad Ali’s (Will Smith) world before he is about to win the heavyweight championship of the world from boxer Sonny Liston (Michael Bentt).

Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay) is friends with Muslim propagandist Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles) and is quickly becoming a symbol in the Black Muslim movement. We also begin to see a friendship beginning to develop between legendary sports caster Howard Cosell (Jon Voight) and the champ.

Michael Mann’s opus really never achieves greatness because of its strange structuring. The film starts off in what seems to be the “second era” of Ali’s life and not the first. This makes the film seem more like a sequel than perhaps an accurate depiction of what made this champion so great. Why did they start so late in the life of this man? Why was Ali so devoted to Islam? Why did he feel he had the right to force the practices of Islam onto his many wives? These questions are never fleshed out or fully exposed and that is a very large shame.

The film’s running time of almost 3-hours also hurts this bio-pic because we never feel sitting for that amount of time is justified because we never really learn anything new. Well, except for some unseen flaws in the mortality of this great man.

The film’s third act delves into one of the most famous of Ali’s fights. The fight known as the “Rumble in the Jungle” takes Ali to Africa to face power-hitter George Foreman in the classic face-off. This is still regarded as one of the greatest fights of all time. This whole portion of the film was utter boredom for me because of the amazing 1996 documentary called “When We Were Kings” which covered this whole portion of Ali’s life in amazing detail. The documentary followed Ali and Foreman through the training and into the great fight itself. It is an amazing documentary.

In a nearly 3-hour movie you would thing that there would be more positive to focus on. But really the performances seem to be the only one.

Will Smith is amazing as the champion personified and I am sure he will get an Oscar nod but probably not a win.

Jon Voight, for the second time this year, brings a classic person in history to flesh. His first was Roosevelt in last summer’s “Pearl Harbor”.

Voight’s transformation is amazing as Cosell if you didn’t know it was him you may think they brought Cosell back from the dead. I enjoyed a lot of the performances but those two for me were the jewels. The scenes where these two actors worked together were just that jewels. I loved the antics and friendship between these two.

There have been better films made about this legendary man but maybe Mann should have gone to his roots instead of straight to his boxing.

The fights are executed flawlessly and will be eye-candy to sports fans but the drama around them is dull and hard to follow since we have no real origin to follow so we can support Ali’s decisions.

Ali just plainly isn’t the great film it should be.

(3 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

One thought on “Retro Review: Ali

  1. Your words echo what I have always heard about this film. The only thing that really keeps it from being bad is the incredible work of Will Smith. I hope I do get to see this one soon.

    Good review!

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