Ali (2001), Cert 15.

Director - Michael Mann.

Writers - Gregory Allen Howard & Stephen J. Rivele.

Starring - Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight, Mario Van Peebles & Jada Pinkett Smith.


Premise - This biopic of Muhammad Ali covers his life from his first Heavyweight Championship fight up to the Rumble In The Jungle.

Ali seems to have (for my money) the three most important pieces of the movie puzzle dead right. They have a wonderful script, a masterful director and in Will Smith a stunning lead performance.

Will Smith shows the audience that not only can he be crazy and goofy, but he can also be Muhammad Ali. For that's what he is in this film, the speech, the movement, the charisma, Smith nails it all. Add to it the weight he gained to match Ali's 220lbs and you have a walking, breathing, embodiment of Ali when he was in his prime. It's simply a stunning piece of work from an actor who's only ever done a couple of serious roles in the past. He shows the full range from the wisecracking, wise ass in press conferences to the emotional scene where he hears of Malcom X's death. I cannot emphasise enough just how good Will Smith is in Ali.

Such a powerful performance would overshadow the supporting cast you would think. Well, you would be dead wrong. Perhaps best is Jon Voight, almost unrecognisable under a prosthetic as sportscaster Howard Cosell. Along with his work in Pearl Harbor last year was a good one for Voight. I have never seen any of Cosell's broadcast's, but it just feels right. The chemistry he shares with Smith is tremendous. Cossell's and Ali's relationship was one of mutual respect and they play of each other wonderfully.

Elsewhere you have Jamie Foxx as Bundini, Mario Van Peebles as Malcolm X and Will Smith's wife Jada Pinkett as one of Ali's wives. All do good work especially Van Peebles. Obviously he's nothing on Denzel, but he's very good nonetheless.

I'm a big fan of Michael Mann's work. He's been responsible for some of favourite movies. Films like Heat, The Insider and Manhunter are sterling examples of quality filmaking. It's no surprise then that he again pulls it off. Of particular note are the boxing scenes. Mann shoots them very stylishly using handheld camera's and a nice little trick where it seems like the camera is in the boxers glove. For the rest of the film he really just sits back and lets Will Smith work, it's an approach that works. Perhaps the best scene in the film is when Ali is jogging through the shanty towns before the Rumble In The Jungle, powerful stuff and beautifully filmed.

The script is good, sifting the wheat from the chaff to keep the running time fairly low considering the amount of content required to fit in. Particularly well covered is Ali's refusal to accept the draft. This takes up the majority of the middle of the movie. For a long period we are without action because Ali cannot fight. What could have become boring is handled so that interest is held throughout long dialogue scenes.

I applaud the filmmakers for going the 'warts and all' route by not shying away from Ali's penchant for the ladies. The viewer loses no respect for the man despite his weakness for the fairer sex. Something the makers of A Beautiful Mind may have benefited from trying.

For all that is good though I had a few quibbles.

For portions of the film I was left wondering what the hell was going on. I don't pretend to know the life story of Muhammad Ali like the back of my hand, in-fact I'm quite ignorant to his life. So what I would have liked to see was some titles on screen telling me what year it was, where we were and whom Ali was fighting. As it stood I didn't really know what was going on for large parts of the film.

Also, although I have seen Malcolm X, it was several years ago. The film seems to assume that the viewer has just watched it previously. Ali could have benefited from fleshing out a bit of X's history just to bring the audience up to speed.

Although in the opening montage (which is excellent) we see some clips of Ali as a child I would have liked to see a bit more of this period in his life. I think it may have helped in the understanding of the man. In saying that though the film is 156 minutes long as it stands, you have to decide to say stop at some point.

Ali is a very good film, that for my money could have been that bit better with some relatively minor tweaking. Recommended.


7/10 for Ali.

Poster Quote - The greatest.