Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ali (2001)

Directed by Michael Mann
Starring: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight, Nona Gaye, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mario Van Peebles
Grade: B

While it loosely follows the conventional structure of biopics, Mann’s impression of the boxer deemed the world’s ‘greatest’ is often bitingly honest, Ali shown to be an arrogant adulterer with a nasty streak about him. And yet the film still feels compromised, the attempts to associate Ali’s Islamic commitments to the people of Zaire confusing given that the characterisation of the man suggests his approach towards religion was a hypocritical burden to all around him. It might be that I’m reading this wrongly, or that the film simply doesn’t handle this element of Ali well, but it does feel like the late switch to Africa leading up to the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ tries to reconcile the behaviour of Ali the Man when there doesn’t appear to be much to identify with. The decision to cast Will Smith, however, is a wise move, the guy’s extrovert nature and clear sense of ambition a good fit for Ali’s charismatic brand of showmanship, while Nona Gaye gives an excellent performance as his suffering second wife.

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