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Ali Smith

Starring: Will Smith
Director: Michael Mann
Genre: Drama
Year: 2001
Rating: 4 / 5

Will Smith is a charismatic, engaging leading man. That is the single best thing about Michael Mann's Ali, yet one of the few things that holds the film back from true greatness. Some critics have suggested that Muhammad Ali is such a larger-than-life character that no actor would be able to do him justice. On the contrary, I do not have a problem accepting an actor's portrayal of "The Greatest" - I have a problem accepting Will Smith as anything other than Will Smith. He is himself a larger-than-life screen persona, and, instead of seeing Muhammad Ali, I always see Will Smith. His performance is top-notch and worthy of the Oscar talk surrounding it. I could not even begin to suggest another actor to fill such ample shoes, but I wonder if another actor would have allowed an easier acceptance of Ali himself.

Set during the turbulent decade from 1964 to 1974, Ali covers some of the most significant years in Muhammad Ali's life. From the film's onset, when Ali wins the heavyweight title from an overmatched Sonny Liston, until its stirring conclusion, the famous Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman, the film gives us an in-depth look at Ali the boxer and Ali the man. We see Ali's cadre of loyal followers, as well as those individuals seeking to use him for personal gain. We watch as he falls in and out of love with three beautiful women, never able to curb his insatiable appetite for the fairer sex. We look on as he battles the United States government over its intention to send him to Vietnam, never wavering in his quest for what is right.

Ali is an enthralling film, not to mention an educational one. Having grown up after Muhammed Ali's heyday, I learned an awful lot about his impact on America and his relationship with various luminaries of the time. His odd, friendly rapport with Howard Cosell (Jon Voigt) is a revelation to me, and presents the film with some of its most touching moments. Ali's camaraderie with Malcolm X, as the famed spokesman is nearing the latter days of his life, is instrumental in Ali's conversion to Islam. At the same time, we see Ali intermingle with the various boxing legends of his day, a time that is considered the best ever for the heavyweight division. It all comes together to illustrate one man's position at the top of the sporting world and his place in the eyes of his adoring public.

Director Michael Mann (Heat) should be commended for his ability to compress ten years of a remarkable life into one film. At the same time, though, he must be held accountable for elements that hold the film back. Mann assumes a certain level of familiarity with Ali's life, to the point where the passage of time during this decade is lost on the uneducated. Boxing matches, wives, and political struggles all merge into one jumbled timeline, seldom coming up for air until the film's memorable finale. Ultimately, Michael Mann produces a film that proudly captures the essence of a mythical figure who captures the world's attention to this day. Muhammad Ali is still one of the most recognizable faces across the globe, and Ali helps all of us to understand why.

Cast:

Will Smith..........Muhammad Ali
Jamie Foxx..........Bundini Brown
Jon Voigt..........Howard Cosell
Mario Van Peebles..........Malcolm X
Ron Silver..........Angelo Dundee

Certification: Rated R for language and violence.
Running Time: 158 minutes.

Additional Info: Internet Movie Database
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[critics]