Ali (2001)

Generally solid if slightly overlong Muhammad Ali biopic with an underrated performance from Will Smith—it doesn’t push the envelope for the boxing genre, but Mann delivers the fundamentals right.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,213

Dir. Michael Mann
2001 | USA | Drama/Biography/Sport | 157 mins | 2.35:1 | English, French & Swahili
NC16 (passed clean) for some language and brief violence

Cast: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight
Plot: A biography of sports legend Muhammad Ali, focusing on his triumphs and controversies between 1964 and 1974.
Awards: Nom. for 2 Oscars – Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actor
Distributor: Sony

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Sport, Identity, History
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

Rumbling on for nearly 160 minutes, one might find Ali to be overlong and that more territory ought to have been covered with such a runtime, but overall, it is still a generally solid biopic on one of the most influential sporting figures of the 20th century. 

With Michael Mann behind the wheel, Ali mostly works as an introduction to the famous boxer; he’s interested in Ali’s battle with his inner and external demons as much as his legendary fights, which his cinematographer, the great Emmanuel Lubezki, shot with thrilling intensity. 

Already working with the digital format, we see handheld footage thrown in, digital noise included, though Mann’s visual style here doesn’t come close to the exquisite poetry he later achieved with Collateral (2004) and Miami Vice (2006). 

“You won’t even stand up for my rights here at home.”

Will Smith is underrated as Ali—while he isn’t as physically imposing as his opponents, he keeps his character grounded in the narratives that defined him. 

One of which was his refusal to be inducted into the U.S. Army to fight a meaningless war in Vietnam, at the risk of a long prison sentence that would threaten his professional career.  The other is his battle with racial and religious prejudice, and how he inspired people around the world to overcome oppression and adversity. 

Mann doesn’t push the envelope for the boxing genre, but he delivers the fundamentals right.  He leaves the best for last, his milestone fight with the heavyweight champion George Foreman in Zaire in 1974, famously known as ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’, and was the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary, When We Were Kings (1996).

Grade: B+



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