September 25, 2005

The World's Greatest

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Rubbish! I'm positive someone on the Warwick blogosphere had already written a great review of this film but I can't find it! Hmm… guess I'll have to spend a bit longer on this entry than planned.

I'm not a fan of boxing. Neither am I fond of glorifying films. However, this pic manages to depict what it's not meant to be depicting. The boxing sequences are a delight to watch – you crawl into Ali's mind and see all the punches fly at you whilst thinking out tactics [walk back] then switch to a long shot of just the footwork of the two fighters, without making you feel you're missing any of the action. And for glorification there is no space reserved – the part of Ali's (or Cassius') life that forms the storyline is not glorious at all. It almost ends up being a socio-political drama instead.

Actually, I lied. There is quite some glorifying. Although I'm not too informed on 1960s American history to know whether Ali was as big a political figure as Malcolm X. But that's what the film makes you believe. And the way this film has been produced, I'm quite happy to believe Ali was a great figure in that time. Someone should have taught him to speak clearly though.

Nearly everything in this film is perfect. The soundtrack on its own is worth 5 stars, and is seamlessly incorporated into each scene, often more thought provoking than the images themselves, but also given new meaning – or clarified in their relevance to the time [A Change Is Gonna Come after Malcolm X is shot dead – this shouldn't be a spoiler. Actually, I could tell the whole storyline and not spoil anything unless you know nothing about Ali's life] by whatever is on screen. And those images are wonderful in their own right. A lot of play with light and dark, and great interplay between Ali's life and current affairs.

Acting performances are great. Smith manages to make you believe he is a great boxer – maybe even Ali – as he dances inside and outside the ring. His scenes with sportscaster Howard Cosell [an amazing performance from Jon Voight – seriously, this actor sneaks into great films like a fox and you never know it's him till you see the credits. I truly believed this was a real-life sportscaster! Interviewing Will Smith…] are great amusement and the two must have had fun re-enacting those moments. Jamie Foxx is hardly recognizable as a balding (Jewish?) alcoholic who happens to be Ali's motivator, but puts down the most outstanding performance [apart from Jon Voight, but I thought that was a guy doing his actual job so let's just talk about obvious actors here] in this film, but unfortunately he doesn't spend too much time on screen here.

There is the greatest debit of the film. Although the scenes follow each other perfectly, and the story is not too hard to follow, in the 3 hours it takes from A to B, there are too many sub plots and sidetracks to actually enable us to enjoy a single character. It starts of with the focus on Cassius Clay becoming a champion and being renamed Mohammed Ali, with in the background his friendship with Malcolm X. The second part shows us Ali's trouble with the draft, a pending imprisonment, and his lack of income due to lack of boxing license. And the third and final is all about the build up to the Rumble in the Jungle, Ali's fight with George Foreman in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). In 3 hours we get to see about 4 people around Ali helping in his boxing career – seems pretty important to me to get to know them, but only Foxx manages to leave some impression, but not enough to give us an idea what his character actually did for Ali. Then there are 3 wives (at different times) who just come and go. Yes, just like that. Somewhere in between there is the friendship with and murder of Malcolm X, and a row between Ali and his dad about discarding the family (slave) name of Clay. With about 20 important people in Ali's life, the only character I feel I really got to know is Cosell [Jon Voight's]. And I learned some more about the social and political ongoings in the 1960s.

As a story-telling film, that's where its shortcomings lay. No problems with Smith's performance – the emphasis was just too much on what we already know: Ali's a womanizer, a great boxer, and had some great punchlines as well. As a 'motion picture' it's great. What your eyes get to register is one of the best and most beautiful film sequences – especially when boxing is concerned. The film is entertaining and educational, with great acting and a wonderful soundtrack. It's just a shame Ali had so many important and people worthy-of-a-story around him.


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