View Date: December 29, 2001


Will Smith Muhammad Ali
Jamie Foxx Drew 'Bundini' 
Jon Voight Howard Cosell
Mario Van Peebles Malcolm X
Ron Silver Angelo Dundee
Jeffrey Wright Howard Bingham
Mykelti Williamson Don King
Jada Pinkett Smith Sonji
Nona M. Gaye Belinda
Michael Michele Veronica
Joe Morton Chauncy Eskridge

Directed by:
Michael Mann 

Written by

Gregory Allen Howard (story)

Stephen J. Rivele
Christopher Wilkinson
Eric Roth
Michael Mann

Official Site:

Related Viewings:

Hurricane, The (1999)
Insider, The (1999)

When We Were Kings (1996)
Raging Bull (1980)

Also see my reviews at:


Cast information and links courtesy of logo.gif (2059 bytes)

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Few men, let alone people, would ever want to get in the ring and go at it with a heavyweight boxer.  For fear of injury, humiliation, or just because of intelligence or pride stopping them doing so, most of us will suffice to just sit, watch and cheer or jeer.  However for anyone wondering what it would have felt like to go a few rounds with the one known as The Greatest, they need only sit through the tiring, sometimes flashy recreation of an important period in the life of Ali.  It is at time amazing to watch Smith bring Aliís spirit and energy to life, but unfortunately this performance becomes bogged down with prolonged shots with only the musical score behind it, and an inconsistent pacing and transition, which gives this film the exhausting feeling of cinematic rope-a-dope.

Ali focuses on the most formulative and important years of his life, covering his ascension to the championship (by defeating Sonny Liston) through his religious conversion to Islam and the pressure, both external and internal, created by that, through two of his wives, his refusal to serve in the Army, and concluding with the infamous Rumble in The Jungle (chronicled wonderfully, in the far superior documentary When We Were Kings).  This seems like a lot of ground to cover for a movie, and Mann does allow sufficient time to develop and delve into each event which molded Clay/Ali into the athletic, and social icon that is today, however he fails to move smoothly from scene to scene, instead choosing to hold long, introspective scenes backed with some nice soulful music, but lending little atmosphere or deeper meaning to the events.  In the end, Aliís life seems even more crowded, uncomfortable and disheveled than it really was.  While things are really nice to look at, and hear, it gets very tiring, and any semblance of interest or curiosity generated is slowly beaten down, and finally away. The fight scenes, while well done, also become prolonged and tiring, losing their intensity and effectiveness, and making us wish, as we do with the movie, that it would just be over.  Forget the questions of historical accuracies, the lack of interest generated, fails to make the audience even remotely care about them.  This is something that Ive stated that films about real life must do in order to succeed, generate interest.  I knew a lot about Ali already, but the aspects touched on here only remotely made me curious when introduced, and by their conclusion, created an ambivalent sense of exhaustion.  There are so many flashes of brilliance, and of what could have been, in the hands of a director more used to dealing sports films (Ron Shelton maybe, to make up for Play it To The Bone), but instead Mann, more used to character based films, than biographical ones, fumbles the creation, while wasting some genuinely great performances.

Leading the way, far and above the rest, is Smith as Ali, putting to rest once again, those who doubt his genuine acting ability as a dramatic performer.  He proved it to me in his volatile, vulnerable, powerful turn in Six Degrees of Separation, and once again here, as he embodies and becomes the Champ, in the same vein that Jim Carrey became Andy Kaufman.  It is a truly haunting performance, but one that deserved a much better film.  Voight seems to be getting the lionís share of the buzz in his turn as Cosell, and while he does get lost in the makeup being unrecognizable and captures Howardís true nature, even if softened a bit, the supporting performance to take away from this film is that of Foxx, as the troubled, but loyal Drew Bundini.  Foxx is making steps to be taken seriously as an actor, just as Smith did in his Six Degrees turn, with this one, and Any Given Sunday, and the diverse nature of these roles, he too should be notice and recognized.  Overall, the casting was perfect and dead on, but lost amidst the cluttered yet lethargic delivery of the film.

Ultimately, Ali is a sometimes flashy, but mostly lethargic and exhausting exercise in futility which fails to recapture the heart and soul of a man revered by most, and respected by all who were influence by his presence. To truly capture a moment in time, all aspects must be covered, honored, and given their just due, in a consistent, smooth manner.  Mann may have tackled more than he could handle by trying to bottle the Champ into just two plus hours, his life could be a miniseries, that if done well, could hold attention and create conversation long after.  When We were Kings showed there is a story to be told about Ali, but it stuck more to reality, rather than recreation, and therein lay its success between the contender, and the pretender.  Ali KOíd me early on, and even after some brilliant flashes and jabs, it still could not recover and ends up falling listlessly, and slightly, into the also rans of the cinematic year. ($$ out of $$$$$)

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