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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.78%
Worth A Look: 21.74%
Pretty Bad: 26.09%
Total Crap: 10.87%

7 reviews, 50 user ratings

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by Stephen Groenewegen

"Highs and lows"
3 stars

Ali is an expensive Hollywood biopic from Michael Mann (The Insider). It covers a tumultuous ten-year period in the life of one of America’s most cherished sporting icons, Muhammad Ali.

Michael Mann reconstructs in impressive period detail the public events of Ali’s life, including several key boxing tournaments and press conferences. The opening wordless montage of the young Ali (Will Smith) training and boxing is interspersed with scenes of his first childhood awareness of black segregation and white hatred in America. The montage is backed by the glorious music of Sam Cooke, whose nightclub act is recreated by David Elliot. This opening sequence hums; it’s as exhilarating as the establishing scenes in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (set to “One (is the loneliest number)”). Mann frequently incorporates black music throughout the film to place the period. It adds an irresistible lift to the action.

Ali begins on a high in 1964, with the winning of Cassius Clay’s first heavyweight title. By this time, Clay was a recent convert to Islam. Like Malcolm X before him, the prophet Elijah Muhammad encouraged Clay to renounce his “slave name” and christened him “Muhammad Ali”. When Ali was drafted to fight in Vietnam, he resisted, and was promptly blacklisted by the World Boxing Association. By 1974, he was fighting again and eager to reclaim his heavyweight title. Ali closes on another high with the famous “Rumble in the Jumble” bout against George Foreman in Zaire. Sports commentator Howard Cosell (Jon Voight) was present at most of these events and acts as the film’s unofficial narrator.

The screenplay went through a number of writers and drafts. This final version is credited to two teams of screenwriters - Stephen J Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson (Nixon) and Eric Roth and Michael Mann (The Insider) – working from a story by Gregory Allen Howard (Remember the Titans). It avoids the pitfalls of many a biopic by not trying to shovel a famous person’s whole life into a few hours. But you only learn about Ali as a public figure, not as a man. He’s almost completely withdrawn in the scenes away from the public eye. It’s not clear from the script whether this is how Ali was. Did he thrive only under the spotlight of publicity? Or were the writers unaware of what he was like off the record? A film about a public figure like Ali should either confront his private life, or leave it out entirely. There’s a half-hearted attempt at portraying his infidelity, but it comes late in the picture and is treated very discreetly. I’m no expert on Ali, but I learnt little about him from this film that I didn’t already know.

The energy level of the picture rises and falls with Will Smith’s performance. His charisma carries Ali. When he’s up - boasting before a fight or sparring with Cosell on TV - he lifts you with him. Smith massively bulked up for the role. With his deeper intonation and the aid of subtle cosmetic alterations (flattened ears, hair cut back from his forehead), you eventually forget you’re watching Will Smith. But when he’s subdued, Smith doesn’t share what he’s thinking with the audience, and Ali ultimately remains enigmatic. The rest of the large, mostly black, cast is excellent, including a convincing Mario Van Peebles as Malcolm X. I’m unfamiliar with the real Cosell, but I assume Voight’s been made up to closely resemble him - you have to peer intently to recognise the actor beneath the prosthetics.

Ali is enjoyable for the spectacle of the period recreations, and for Will Smith’s exuberance, but it’s not a revealing movie. And surely that’s why we watch biopics – to learn something we didn’t already know about the subject, not to see actors in the shameless pursuit of awards for impersonating great figures.

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originally posted: 02/20/02 13:41:43
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User Comments

6/30/18 The Champ Now heres a film that could do with a remake 3 stars
9/13/17 morris campbell will smiths best role 4 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
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
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  25-Dec-2001 (R)
  DVD: 01-Jun-2004



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