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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, May 26, 2024


Jan. 3, 2002 – Muhammad Ali, from his beginnings as Cassius Clay, was one of the most famous personalities on the American landscape in the 1960s and '70s with his rage and wit and athletic genius. Although director Michael Mann spends almost three hours studying the charismatic boxer in "Ali," some reviewers fault him for what he's left out.
Will Smith plays Ali — and plays him well, according to online critics. Smith bulked up for the role and studied Ali's every mannerism, speech and boxing tactic, all of which has resulted in a performance faithful to the role (and endorsed by Ali, himself.)
Ali's challenges surpassed the boxing ring. He fought conventions, joined an Islamic brotherhood and refused to fight in Vietnam, for which he was prohibited from fighting in the states. His life has Shakespearean overtones, "The Greatest," outspoken, bigger than life, up to his status today as an elder statesman despite his physical disabilities due to Parkinson's disease.
Reviewer Marc Caro of Metromix.com notes that Mann worked with an "embarrassment of material." Given that, Caro wonders why Mann bypassed compelling details of Ali's life — why he omitted "a sense of Ali's childhood; how his popularity soared to globe-conquering heights; his specific religious/spiritual connection to Islam; the 'phantom punch' controversy surrounding his second defeat of Liston; or any mention of his bitter rivalry with Joe Frazier, including their on-air scuffle before their second fight; and any mention of 'The Thrilla in Manila' or any mention of Ali's physical decline."
Are these "unflattering dynamics" missing, Caro wonders, "because both Ali … and Frazier are still alive? Or because Mann has a more idiosyncratic strategy in mind?"
What Mann repeatedly fails to deliver is the joy and anguish that, one assumes, informed Ali's private journey, says Paul Tatara, CNN.com reviewer. "The script contains too many public declarations, and not enough probing exchanges in the champ's living room," Tatara says.
Jamie Foxx, portraying Ali's confidant, Drew "Bundini" Brown, is the only actor outside of Smith who's given a chance to develop a complex character, and even he gets shortchanged, according to Tatara, who says Ali's trainers and various wives also get short shrift.
"The less said about Jon Voight's bizarre turn as Howard Cosell, the better," Tatara writes. "He gets the voice right, as most of us do, but he looks like his head has been dipped in sealing wax."
In sum, many reviewers say, with a subject as monumental as Ali, the audience should leave the theater in a state of awe, something none of them claim to have done.
The movie's pluses include excellent photography, a good script (with most of the material supplied by Ali, himself), and a chilling study of Ali's arrival in Zaire for the famous "Rumble in the Jungle" fight against George Foreman in 1974. Ali is speechless for once. He has come to Zaire to regain his title, stripped from him in 1967 after he refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army.
December's issue of Vanity Fair magazine carries a portion of the script for the fight scene, should you like a brief glimpse into what Smith went through in his portrayal of Ali.
The movie is rated R for language and brief violence. It is playing at Market Square East on St. Thomas.

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