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For some language and brief violence
Will Smith, Jon Voight, Michael Bent, Giancarlo Esposito, Jamie Foxx, Ron Silver
Stephen J. Rivele, Chris Wilkinson
With wit and athletic genius, with defiant rage and inner grace, Muhammad Ali forever changed the American landscape. Fighting all comers, Ali took on the law, conventions, the status quo and the war-as well as the fists in front of him. Ali both ignited and mirrored the conflicts of his time and ours to become one of the most admired fighters in the world. Forget, now, what you thought you knew. Behind Ali's seismic accomplishments, superstar Will Smith and Academy Award?- nominated director/writer Michael Mann will take you into the heart and life of the boxer, the legend and, more importantly, the man. He talked and danced. He fought and struggled. Ali shook the world.
Ali (2001) | Review
Forget what you think you know
This is a movie that I have been looking forward to for some time. You see: I come from a boxing family and actually boxed myself. My uncle (my mother's brother), J.D. Estep, won numerous Golden Glove Championships and lost by 1 point in a split decision to Jimmy Ellis during the Olympic Trials. Ellis went on to win the Gold Medal that year as well as later on to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World. So, you can see that boxing is, so to say, in my blood.
I remember J.D. talking about Ali and Marciano being the best fighters ever and I, watching many of the Ali fights with him, couldn't help but agree that Ali certainly was "The Greatest."
So it was with a great deal of anticipation that I have awaited this film. Michael Mann has done a great job of making this an 'Art' film. The usage of music, soft lens effects and more make this film rather remarkable to watch. I couldn't say enough about the ensemble cast. Will Smith turned down the role for approximately 5 years before accepting it. It is obvious that he put his whole person into the once in a lifetime opportunity of playing Mohammed Ali. He put on approximately 37 pounds of muscle and spent almost a year in the gym learning the sport. There are moments in the film where the similarities between Will Smith and Ali are quite remarkable. Not only does he look just like him, he sounds just like him.
Others in the film also stand out remarkably. Jon Voight is notable as Howard Cosell and if you didn't know it was Voight you wouldn't believe it. This has certainly been a standout year for Voight. Along with his role in Pearl Harbor he certainly deserves an Academy Award nomination this year for best Supporting Actor. This movie includes many others that could be taken into account for that award, as well as Smith for consideration as Best Actor. Jamie Foxx, as Drew 'Bundini' Brown, plays the part perfectly. He provides much needed comic relief, and insights into the life of this individual that very few fans of the sport know about. 'Bundini' was a friend and supporter of Ali for most of his career. He is the one that is responsible for many of the great sayings that Ali is known for.
Others include Ron Silver, who plays the part of longtime great trainer Angelo Dundee, and Mario Van Peebles, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Malcolm X. Both of these actors do an exceptional job and could easily be considered for supporting role nominations. The film starts with Ali in the gym prior to his initial Sonny Liston fight. Through the sequence we see Ali as a youth in a number of flashbacks. One of those scenes shows him in a Christian Church looking at some individuals within the church paint a mural of Jesus Christ: with pure white skin, blonde hair and blue eyes.
It is clear from the early beginnings of Cassius Clay that he has difficulty with Christianity. Much of the remainder of the film explores Ali's commitment to the Muslim faith and his fight with the United States over his refusal to fight in Vietnam. Many watching the film will not understand the confusion that Ali went through prior to his decision to follow the Muslim faith. While watching many of the scenes and flashbacks I was reminded of the racial attitudes that existed throughout America at the time.
I was also reminded of the words of a valued musician friend of mine who once told me that, "Sometimes what is important in Christianity is not so much how many we win to the Lord but how many we have turned away from Him." Recalling these words and thoughts I couldn't help but wonder what role inappropriate Christian attitudes played in developing the dedication to the Muslim faith that Mohammed Ali has. In the above mentioned area I was reminded of the importance of loving my neighbor not just in word but also in action and deed. If Christians had been greater advocates for the rights of African Americans in the 1950's and 60's instead of placing them in the backs of busses and viewing them as less than human, it is highly possible that Ali would have accepted Christianity rather than rejecting it. At the very least, he would view it differently today.
While there can be no certainty to this, we cannot hide from the fact that as 'Christians', we certainly have a lot that we need to go to God for and ask forgiveness for. A large part of that is our unwillingness to 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' a charge that Jesus Himself identified as among the greatest commandments. The film continues on with the struggles of Ali in his relationships with women, within his church, with the United States Government and much more. The real Mohammed Ali has to be credited for his willingness to allow the bad as well as the good to be portrayed in this film.
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