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Overall Rating
2.93

Awesome: 9.89%
Worth A Look: 21.98%
Average30.77%
Pretty Bad: 26.37%
Total Crap: 10.99%

7 reviews, 49 user ratings


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Ali
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by MP Bartley

"It pulls some of it's punches but it's still a contender"
4 stars

Being a Brit on this site can be a bit awkward sometimes. The majority of the big, hyped-up movies come out in America a good month or two before they arrive here. This means any reviews that I do are generally lagging behind, or I find my view in consensus with everyone else and so feel that I can offer nothing new to the argument. But not this time. Before its arrival on these shores I'd noticed that the reception to Micahel Mann's 'Ali' was lukewarm at best. This pre-conception may have something to do with why I actually enjoyed this film so much then.

Biographies are a notoriously tricky medium to work with. Stick too close to the alleged truth and you come under fire for misrepresenting the person in question (George Clooney's representation of Billy Tyne in 'The Perfect Storm' for example). But should you miss out the slightly less appealing characteristics of someone, you come under fire for...well, for misrepresenting the person in question (Russell Crowe as John Nash for example). It may not be so surprising, if a little dissapointing, that Mann plays 'Ali' so straight then.

After seeing this did I feel that I had truly gained an insight into one of the most charismatic and enigmatic characters to live in the 20th century? Hell no. We never learn about his childhood (save for one scene where he travels on a segregated bus), or why he took up boxing, or what just drove him to reach the heights that he did. But for a near 3 hour movie I was never less than entertained.

'Ali' charts the three year period from 1964 to 1974 beginning with the young Cassius Clay truimphing over Sonny Liston to the mighty Rumble In The Jungle against George Foreman. Along the way it takes in Clays conversion to Islam and the taking of his new name, his friendship with Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles), his friendship with sports commentator Howard Cossell (Jon Voight), his various marriages and the trials he has with longtime friend 'Bundini' Brown (Jamie Foxx).

Perhaps the biggest problem that people seem to have with 'Ali' is that it never burns with a passion that Ali himself did. Although I'm loathe to criticise a director I've previously had a lot of respect for I would have to lay this at Manns' door. Perhaps he was just the wrong man for the job as most of his films have a cold, almost impersonal touch. This film called for someone with a lot more heart and a little less aloofness, for want of a better word. All of Ali's relationships that are alluded to during the film, fall flat of emotion and never have the resonance that they should, the disintegration and eventual reconciliation between Ali and Brown, for example. Who exactly was Brown, and why was he so important to Ali that he forgave the fact he sold his belt? Or the fact that we never learn anything about his relationship with any of his three wives. He could have been a terrible husband, but we never know.

This flatness feels worse during the middle section. Ali's refusal of the Vietnam draft and the very serious threat of jail, or never boxing again doesn't hit the dramatic fireworks that it should. Mann also hints at what seems to be a conspiracy by the government to keep Ali out of the public eye because of his links with the Islam faith, but he fudges this issue and never states one way or the other what really happened. In a biopic we don't want suggestions, we want facts.

So despite the fact that I've just criticised the film for the last two paragraphs, why did I enjoy it so? Well for all the criticism I've just dished out to him, Mann certainly comes to life in the boxing scenes. He avoids the histronics of 'Rocky' and the bone splintering of 'Raging Bull' to deliver a graceful yet blistering portrait of the bouts of Ali. They're brilliantly sustained and edited pieces of work (the Sonny Liston fight lasts in actuality time, whereas the Rumble In The Jungle almost leaves the audience bruised) that drag you to the edge of your seat.
And despite the previous criticism for the middle section that doesn't crackle as it should, it's never less than interesting. For a 3 hour film I only checked my watch a couple of times and that's rare.

But if you're going to talk about 'Ali' and what brings it to near greatness, then you're talking about the acting. Jon Voight and Jamie Foxx are great but this movie belongs to the Fresh Prince. Despite appearing in one too many stinkers for my liking, Will Smith has always hinted at greatness. Denzel Washington must be kicking himself. Had this movie been made 10 or even 5 years ago there would have been no-one else apart from the Denz' to take on the Champ. But time catches up on everyone and for all his talent I'm afraid Washington would be too old for this part.

But Smith does more than nail the part. He inhabits Ali and not once does he 'get jiggy with it'. We always knew that Smith could hit the notes required for the infamous press conferences (the highlights of the film), he's a born comedian. But he gets everything else dead right. The swagger, the poise, the humanity in the smaller, intimate scenes. The man who storms into a training room, beats out a rhythm on bongos while singing 'The Champ is here!', and the man who sits engrossed watching termites on tv, like a child. It's an incredibly brave move for Smith- who'd want to be known as the man who failed as Ali?- and if we fail to get an insight into the mans inner workings, again it's not his fault it's Manns. Smith pitches his performance just right (he could have easily fallen into parody) and he does more than look the part in the ring. He is the part.

'Ali' is one of these films that are hard to rate. It's certainly above 'just average' but would I put it on a four star rating? Probably not, it mis-fires on one too many occasions for that. But the fact that I enjoyed it so much has to take it up a notch or two. We fail to get any true insight into the man (When We Were Kings may be your best bet for that), but we're sure given a ride anyway

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5690&reviewer=293
originally posted: 03/13/02 00:01:01
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell will smiths best role 4 stars
6/06/08 PAUL SHORTT IT DOES CONNECT SOLIDLY MORE OFTEN THAN NOT 3 stars
2/07/06 Anthony A motion picture to remember forever 5 stars
1/30/06 WiseMan For true Ali Fans Only. It made me feel Powerfull though, if you got patience & Apriciation 5 stars
11/12/05 "K" Ali was & still is,a racist and LYING DEVIL.The movie FLOPPED,and deservedly so!! 1 stars
9/13/05 Total Crap Boring, dull movie. Waits too long for the fight with Foreman. For True Ali fans only. 2 stars
8/22/05 ES Too much with the politics, we wanted to see the fighting, the domination and the heart 1 stars
5/28/05 Weltner One-sided portrait of pathological lying hero of black racists,who's fights were fixed. 1 stars
12/27/04 mjoc Reaaly mundane and just boring. Except for Jon Voight 2 stars
8/28/04 amber it was the best movie ever i loved it 5 stars
7/15/04 Daveman Throws in all the sensationalism of Ali's career without giving us any unified message. 2 stars
4/20/04 ALI HBOUS Will Smith along with the score, are the best things about ALI 4 stars
3/23/04 john doesn't capture Ali at all! Smith is in over his head - watch WHEN WE WERE KINGS instead! 2 stars
1/21/04 tatum Scattershot bio almost anchored by Smith 3 stars
1/15/04 Samuel boring at times, but still a good movie 3 stars
11/24/03 brooklyntony I love the man...I hated the movie 1 stars
8/12/03 Pinkline Jones Mr Bean should have got the part 1 stars
7/14/03 Joesco Even as a non-boxing buff I thought this would be good - but it wasn't. 2 stars
6/18/03 magus The greatest, purely cinematic, experience of 2002- I got goosebumps,you feel like ur there 5 stars
6/15/03 Jack Sommersby Maddeningly unfocused and uninvolving. Smith is painfully miscast. 2 stars
4/25/03 mr. Pink Boring. How could Mann have done this. It's even worse than Last of the Mohicans. 1 stars
4/08/03 Andrew Carden Jon Voight Was Amazing, but The Film Was Just Good. 4 stars
1/16/03 Goofy Maxwell Fights=intense, despite Will's lack of intensity. Lost him Oscar, but Ali's still a winner. 4 stars
10/21/02 Joey Joe Joe Junoir Shabanu havent seen the movie 3 stars
6/26/02 Phil M. Aficionado Weinberg's review makes all my points. A ho-hum slice of a larger and great story. 2 stars
5/23/02 natasha exceptional cast, especially Will Smith - he has the charisma to be Ali 5 stars
5/22/02 officer 412/l OK,BUT NOT THE GREAT FILM YOU WERE LED TO BELIEVE. A BIT DULL IN PARTS 3 stars
3/26/02 Jessica Davis (fan of Denzel Washington when he's good) Could've been poli.correct choosing Will instead of Denzel's worst role - ACADEMY EATS SHIT 5 stars
3/23/02 Natalie Stonecipher Amazing. As a non-fan of boxing, I never thought I could like a boxing movie so much. 5 stars
3/17/02 binda this movie was almost a tribute to muhammad ali, a job well done to will smith. 5 stars
3/15/02 Monster W. Kung Not exceptional, but definitely worth a look. 4 stars
2/26/02 Bueller Voight's Kosell make-up was laughable. Pretty good imitation at times. Smith was just Okay. 3 stars
2/01/02 rnmina unfortunately I totally agree with the reviewer, but I think Smith worked well 3 stars
1/13/02 Gay Tooth Fairy Will Smith is good, but not in this movie. He is chunky. I thought Ali was ripped. 1 stars
1/10/02 neo Mann's thumping atmosphere and Smith's performance will truly rock you... 5 stars
1/10/02 malcolm very good, not much new though 4 stars
1/08/02 The Boy In The Designer Bubble Gawd! Rappers in movies! How about Snoop Dogg as Martin Luther King. Stop the insanity! 1 stars
1/05/02 G-Man Another movie crappy movie about the White man keeping the black man down. 1 stars
1/03/02 Turtle Will Smith's perfomance is outstanding, but the movie suffers from a bit of bad direction. 4 stars
1/02/02 paul mann bit off more than he could chew. rent rumble in the jungle instead 3 stars
12/31/01 Marcel It was boring and sometimes I thought I was looking at 60's MTV 2 stars
12/31/01 Butterbean A movie that's misjudged by these "critics" and presents Ali's courage through tough times 4 stars
12/31/01 bumpkin Should have been a Spike Lee film. He did much better with Malcolm X in 3 hours. 3 stars
12/29/01 Too Bad Will Smith is buff but that doesnt save this weak movie. Weak story. Sucking of Ali's dick. 2 stars
12/28/01 Mr Math A big let down. Those who say When We Were Kings is superior are very right. 2 stars
12/28/01 Howard LeDet Movie seemed divided into 3 parts only one of which dealt w/Ali. 2 stars
12/27/01 Sal Gal See the real movie about Ali - when we were kings 3 stars
12/27/01 Todd Best boxing scenes ever, but the rest of the movie is dull as shit. 1 stars
12/23/01 Benjamin.Lesbian Don't waste your time, go see 'When we were Kings' intead 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  25-Dec-2001 (R)
  DVD: 01-Jun-2004

UK
  N/A

Australia
  21-Feb-2002




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