|Pick of the Week:|
Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Tagline: "Forget what you think you know."
Length: 156 minutes
Will Smith gives a memorable performance in the title role of "Ali," a biopic about boxing great Muhammad Ali. When I watched "Ali" at home on DVD recently, I found it to be extremely entertaining. I think it's one of the best sports movies ever made, and it tells a lot about Ali, the public figure. However, although the film offered some tantalizing glimpses into Ali, the man, I yearned for more. To my mind, the movie seemed more like good docudrama than deep character study.
"Ali" opens in 1964 as young Cassius Clay is training for a heavyweight championship bout against Sonny Liston. Scenes of singer Sam Cooke performing before a black audience are brilliantly intercut with scenes of Clay's training. Soon we meet Clay's quirky pal Bundini Brown (Jamie Foxx) and his trainer Angelo Dundee (Ron Silver), and we learn that Clay is spending time with Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles). It's not long before the movie reenacts most of the historic bout between the challenger Clay and the current champ Liston, who comes in as a 7-to-1 favorite. But Clay batters Liston so badly in the sixth round that he won't come out of his corner for the seventh, making Clay at age 22 the new heavyweight champion of the world. Shortly after winning the championship, Clay joins the Black Muslim movement and becomes known as Muhammad Ali. He also meets Sonji (Jada Pinkett Smith), who becomes the first of his four wives.
By 1967 Ali has become a major international celebrity, in part because of his television appearances with sportscaster Howard Cosell (Jon Voight). But with the Vietnam War in progress and most Americans still supporting U.S. involvement in that war, Ali refuses induction into the Army on religious grounds, even though the Nation of Islam does not endorse his refusal. Ali is convicted of draft evasion and while his case wends its way through the legal system, he is stripped of his crown and banned from organized boxing. In 1968 Ali marries Belinda (Nona Gaye), his second wife. In 1970 Ali is permitted to return to organized boxing, and in 1971 he fights Joe Frazier for the heavyweight title, but loses a 15-round decision. Also, in 1971 the U.S. Supreme Court overturns his draft evasion conviction.
The last part of the film focuses on Ali's 1974 championship bout with George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire. Promoted by Don King (Mykelti Williamson), the bout is dubbed the "Rumble in the Jungle." While we watch Ali preparing for the bout, we see his marriage to Belinda starting to crumble, and he meets Veronica (Michael Michele), who will eventually become his third wife. The movie goes on to lovingly recreate the bout itself, which Ali wins by a knockout in the eighth round, thereby reclaiming the heavyweight crown that had been stripped from him for political reasons several years earlier.
The picture and sound quality on the "Ali" DVD are good, but the DVD offers no special features of any consequence. Also, while the movie itself is very good, it's not great. Nevertheless, I highly recommend the film because there are many things that make it well worth watching, including Will Smith's terrific performance, highly cinematic and often thrilling fight sequences, a wonderful and often inventive mix of music and visual imagery, and a glimpse into the fascinating life of a boxing legend.
Selected Special Features on the DVD:
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