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Ali (2001) – Movie Review

Ali movie poster

Written by: Michael Mann, Stephen J. Rivele, Eric Roth & Christopher Wilkinson, based on a story by Gregory Allen Howard
Directed by: Michael Mann
Starring: Will Smith, Jon Voight, Jamie Foxx, Mario Van Peebles, Ron Silver

My Advice: Wait for cable.

Ten years in the life of Cassius Clay (Smith), from his championship win over Sonny Liston (Michael Bentt) to his win against George Foreman (Charles Shufford) in the “Rumble in the Jungle”. During that time, he became heavily involved in Islam, refused to be drafted, had his title stripped from him, and had sex with a whole lot of women.

Something happened to this film. It almost went under when they needed $105 million to make a flick. Why you need that much money for a biopic when the only dollar-heavy star is Will Smith, I have no idea. But I bring all of this to your attention to back me up when I tell you that excesses ruined the film. Excess of editing, excess of characters and cast, excess of no one at the wheel. It feels like a six-hour film that was cut to less than three. And it also feels like they tried to make a film about the time period and not Ali himself. That’s what’s known as “scope creep,” when your original idea gets blown out of proportion and is crushed to death under its own weight.

[ad#longpost]This is partly due to the fact that the film is crammed with as many historical figures and good actors as they could lay hands upon. And then they were given nothing to do. LeVar Burton plays Martin Luther King, Jr., appears in two scenes and has no lines whatsoever. I understand that this was an important event at the time–but what impact did the event have to Ali? According to the film–nothing, really. Paul Rodriguez plays Ali’s team doctor–and has no lines. What’s the point of having these people around?

Also, subplots. Was there a surplus at a discount subplot warehouse store somewhere or something? Ted Levine makes an appearance as some shadowy figure–but what’s the point of him? No idea. Bruce McGill shows up in Zaire speaking French. Um…why? Who the hell is he? No clue. These are probably the characters that got cut from Gosford Park‘s final print. Ali’s problems with his father, with the Nation of Islam–they’re all introduced but never go anywhere.

Another problem: it needed an editor. The supposedly inspirational, moving scene of Ali running through the streets of Zaire with children chanting his name is so long it feels like two Pod Races. The boxing scenes–I had no idea boxing was so god-awful boring. And they went on forever. Although the first fifteen minutes or so, leading up to the first boxing match, was slick and wonderful–the first match with Liston cripples the pacing of the film and it never recovers.

Not to say there aren’t some positive aspects of the film. Smith is a very convincing Ali and Jon Voight is downright eerie as Cosell. Between this and FDR in Pearl Harbor, is there anybody that man can’t portray? Also, Jamie Foxx continues to prove himself a fine actor–he needs to work more often.

For the most part, if you’re a boxing fan or a huge fan of Ali, you might enjoy this flick. If you’re, like me, interested in learning more about the man himself, this isn’t the film for you. That may have been the intent, to tell the story of Cassius Clay and his later incarnations, but its scope is just too big to be well executed upon.

Where to Find Stuff

Click here to buy it on DVD from Amazon.