Ali (2001) Movie Reviews

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ali (2001) Movie Reviews : Meet the man behind the gloves and the poetry

Ali (2001) Movie Reviews

Muhammad Ali is a heroic character with legendary wit, humanity, and boxing skill. Always a fighter and always a lover, Ali's life is a subtle and clever story of dignity, strength, and compassion. And Ali himself wrote that story. This film profoundly reminds me of an autobiography Ali wrote several years ago with the help of a friend. Never afraid to do what needed to be done to get where he wanted to go, Ali was never a stranger to controversy, flambuoyance, acid wit, and an outspoken promotion of truth - even when most of his own fans couldn't see it. This film captures the champ's many battles, not the least of which are the internal battles he wages with himself over politics, his ego, money and his own destructive patterns in relationships with women. But thankfully, it does so in a respectful way which does not compromise the man's heroism, nor does it spare the audience of the laughter, mischief and joy Ali became so well known for. 

Michael Mann's film has relatively little boxing in it, and is in no way a chronicle of Ali's career. A better choice for that subject is "The Greatest" - starring Ali himself, or one of the many documentaries on Ali. This film is about how and why Ali is who he is, and how he drove himself and everybody around him to reach phenomenal heights. It features the beginnings of Ali's career and follows him through the most difficult part of his career, when he fought the US government over the Viet Nam war, fought his own religious establishment over his outspokenness, and even fought against hypocritical promoters he relied on who were bent on exploiting the third world. Too intelligent to just be a prize fighter, too passionate to just shut up, and too faithful to give up his religion when it gave up on him, Ali just kept on driving. The film ends after Ali's fight against George Foreman in 1977, so it does not cover his entire career, and does not discuss his more recent activities. His life since retiring from boxing is equally interesting, in my opinion, but since Mann wanted to depict the most dramatic and challenging aspects of the Ali legend, I can't blame him for his choice of time frame.

The cast is very strong. Will Smith gives a fine performance wonderfully recasting Ali's wonderful facial expressions, gestures, physical style and speech pattern, Jamie Foxx, Ron Silver and Mario Van Peebles are all excellent in their supporting roles. And the boxers are all very believable. They even look like the people they play. Smith doesn't really look anything like Ali, and you are occasionally aware (mainly through Smith's imitation of the greatest's very unique speech) that you are watching an imitation, but this does not in any way detract from the film.

Highly recommended for those interested in real-life drama and heroism, the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s, and the intelligent and political side of American sports. NOT recommended for fans of boxing movies and action films. This is a slow moving, intense drama and neither a feel-good film nor a slug-fest.

The Biggest Modern Day Character Challenge I can imagine...

Some people never liked Ali. He is one of those characters who is so strong, most people are forced to either love him despite his weaknesses or hate him. He was one figure in American history who never really needed anybody. 

He was a conscientious objector against the Viet Nam war, yet he is honored by presidents of the nation he refused to capitulate with in crimes against humanity. His story is that vital to America. 

When Ali was still a teenager, he tried his best to prove his personal excellence in a society prejudiced against black people. He won the boxing gold medal at the Rome Olympics in 1960, yet he came home to Louisville and still wasn't "good enough" buy a sandwich at a white restaurant, because he was black. 

He then decided if the gold medal wasn't good enough for America, then it wasn't good enough for him. At this point in his life, when he had nothing else; he took the gold medal and threw it in the river. 

He observed the wrestler, Gorgeous George, and admired the way he used the negative energy generated by those who disapproved of him as fuel to become the top attraction and make fools of all those who were against him. He wanted to make people boo him. He proclaimed himself as more beautiful than any creature on the planet. He told the world he was the greatest who ever lived. The more they booed him, the more energy it gave him. 

He didn't have a mentor or a manager. He assembled a group of Louisville investors to bankroll him, all by himself. He knew exactly what he wanted from the world, reached out and took it. He made a crown out of it. Nobody gave him anything, and nobody can ever take that away. 

He discarded the name of a great white civil rights leader during the civil war and reasoned that if he was really free to be what HE was, then he should take a name that he thought was a natural black person's name. It didn't make sense for others who came before him to fight and win the rights to do whatever they wanted, if they were then going to do nothing but turn around and say "Thank You". He decided in order to validate the fight for freedom, his role was to be free. 

Muhammad Ali is played by the maybe the only person in the universe who would dare to even attempt it and he succeeds marvelously; not just in a marginal way, but in a big, big way.

This film isn't just swagger, or an imitation of Ali. This is a deep, sensitive, poignant, and romantic story about one of the greatest public figures of the twentieth century. This man truly is a poet and he's lived the life of a poet. To a great extent, Muhammad Ali made his life a manifesto of truth about the American experience. Of all the stories of the twentieth century in America, this was one of the most important ones to tell. 

This film has characters galore: from Jamie Foxx as Bundini Brown, who keeps chanting "float like a butterfly, sting like a beeee!" when everyone in the world thought Ali was going to die at the hands of Sonny Liston; Jada PinkettSmith as Ali's devoutly religious and adoring first wife; MichaelMichele playing Veronica Porche, a beautiful jet set model with whomAli had an affair, to a strong performance by Mario Van Peebles as Ali's conscience; Malcolm X, who forces Ali to think against himself and his adoring Black Muslim following in the interests of right and wrong.

This film has irony, choreography, conflict, humor, drama; and accurately portrays the highest highs of any public figure I've seen in my lifetime, as well as some of the most bitter defeats.

This is about male psychology. This is about female psychology. This is about a religious movement in America. This is about a culture in America and many cultures in America and their struggles to live together and treat each other right and fairly, while trying to do the right thing as concerns their own conscience.

The most glaring weaknesses of any sports film ever made are in the sport scenes themselves. This is the strongest point of this film and also makes it the greatest sports film ever made.

I've been a boxing fan since I was eleven. I was a part of crowds who gathered around Muhammad Ali before he became champion. I know what he looks like face to face. I've watched his boxing films dozens of times, and I'll tell you that the scenes in this movie are perfect reenactments of what actually happened in the ring. This couldn't have been done in less than dozens of takes per scene. They throw punches exactly like the fighters in the real fights. They're in the same part of the ring when they throw those punches. They react to the punches the same way. They even get knocked down in the correct parts of the ring in exactly the same way as the fighters who were in the original fight.

I'm not going to comment on whether it should have won an Oscar for best picture, best actor, best supporting actor, best direction, best photography, best choreography, or other features in the film. Maybe it's better that it didn't win those awards in that year because this film is bigger than any year.

This is the sports film that all others will be judged by from here on out by anyone with any sense of realism and art in movies.

This is one for the ages.
Ali (2001) Movie Reviews

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