Smith, cast give strong performances in Ali

Filmmakers are bound to face some criticism when making a movie about an important, historical figure. However, the true measure of the movie is how fairly it portrays the character. So Columbia Pictures’ film, Ali, had to condense the life of one of the most important figures in the media era into a compact, three-hour brief.

The movie’s goal – a modest one: to tell the story of a man, who, at one time, was arguably the most famous man in the world. Muhammad Ali was an icon of the civil rights movement, a religious figure, a man loved and hated by many, a man exiled by his country for fighting for his beliefs and oh yeah, a boxer. So Director Michael Mann took on the daunting task of making a truthful biopic about Ali.

The film’s largest success is its casting. Will Smith is awe-inspiring in the title role. An actor usually known for his quick one-liners, Smith assumes the character so quickly that any preconceptions moviegoers have of a whimsical, “Getting Jiggy With It” number intervening are squashed as he is thoroughly transformed into the larger-than-life boxer.

The supporting cast also succeeds as Smith is joined by a slew of veteran supporting actors and relative newcomers. Jon Voight brings to life Ali’s media sparring partner, Howard Cosell, and the movie does an excellent job showing how well the two men used each other to further their careers.

The movie also shows how Ali was the first black man to fully speak his mind and thus became a media darling in the sense that every journalist yearned to hear what the flamboyant boxer would say next.

A large focus of the film is placed on the interactions of people in Ali’s life outside of the ring. Mario Van Peebles portrays Malcolm X, who served as a religious mentor to Ali when he converted to Islam.

And Jamie Foxx plays Ali’s ringside motivator, Drew “Bundini” Brown. Foxx gives the real surprise performance here, and is continuing to show tremendous acting chops as he balances his resume with both comedy and drama.

The film, however, delves into too many aspects of Ali’s life. It’s no simple task to choose what to include and exclude in a biography, but some characters and aspects of the film seem forced and undeveloped.

For example, “The Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire was a turning point in Ali’s life as a humanitarian. In Africa, he saw the poverty and suffering of the people. The film introduced us to the problem by showing the lavishness and luxury of the ruling class in the country contrasted with the lifestyles of the lower class.

Another example is how briefly the film focuses on three of Ali’s four wives; they enter and exit the film with very little effect on the character.

Ali is well acted and well conceived, but it had to struggle with telling the life of an incredibly important and influential man in less than three hours – that’s not as easy a task as it sounds.

  • Ali is Rated R

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