"Ali" is an American, mostly English-language movie from 2001, so this one has its 20th anniversary next year. It runs for over 2.5 hours, so at least the duration is where it should be to be accurate for Muhammad Ali, one who is considered by many one of the greatest athletes in sports history. And maybe the greatest boxer who ever existed, although there are other contenders too like LaMotta, Marciano and, more recently, Mayweather. But if we only talk about heavyweights, it's maybe tough to argue against Ali. Sadly, this film is no movie heavyweight by any means, but I will get to that later. The director here is Michael Mann and I got to watch this film on the big screen on the occasion of a Michael mann retrospective, for which I am grateful, but must also say that this is among the weakest from what I have seen by Mann in the last couple weeks. He is also one of the writers here and you could say that it is a bit of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Mann worked with Roth again, with whom he collaborated on other projects, plus there is another duo of writers who have worked together in the past too and also were both Oscar nominees. You can check out their names too if you like. Plus there is a writer of the original story, who has also been part of other significant projects, even without major awards attention. But the one everybody here has talked about was Will Smith. He plays Muhammad Ali. Okay casting choice I suppose. I think the Oscar nomination may have been a bit too much, but other than that he kept the movie going okay, his hammy moments are not too frequent and sometimes also because of the sub-par writing. So it's a movie where he is basically in every scene from beginning to end and for that he does a decent job. And also I may be a bit baised because my appreciation for Smith has gone down considerably in recent years, so big fans of his will maybe enjoy it more than I did. Enjoy him more than I did. This decline in appreciation also has more to do with his wife than with him for sure and some of her/their comments about equality in Hollywood. I deem them racist, but that is another story. And let's not even get started about her having an affair with her son's buddy. What the heck? But yeah, let's not drift too far away from this film now. Jada Pinkett (Smith) is also in this movie and it is basically the perfect evidence of her not being talented and she would be nowhere career--wise without her husband I'm sure. Sadly Smith (in contrast to Ali) did not ditch her quickly. As for the rest of the cast, I find it extremely baffling how Jon Voight got an Oscar nomination for hie performance here. I must say I did not even recognize him, but maybe this appreciation is also linked to the make-up folks or the character he plays, but honestly I must say that there is almost nothing to his character and the friendship between him and the boxer was not depicted or portrayed in a way as meaningful that you'd think he received any award recognition for it. One of the most forgettable accting noms I have seen, even a definite contender for the first position. So yeah, compared to this, even Smith's nomination was really justified. As for the rest of the cast, you will see some more familiar faces in here like Jamie Foxx and Joe Morton. Breaking Bad' Giancarlo Esposito is also part of this film, but his screen time is so miniimal that it's easy to miss him. Same is true for Ted Levine. Such a great actor and he was completely wasted for a one scene role that an extra could have played. As for the girls, there are not really any except the three love interests to Ali and it says a lot that the ring girl has more screen time than almost all the other females in here. But Mann is known for male-centered movies, so no surprise. Actually he is the epitome of that, way more extreme than Tarantino who is also still (although not really justified) seen like that.
But genders don't matter anyway. The real problem with this film lies elsewhere. And it is present from beginning to end: I am talking about how it all feels pretty shallow. It is fairly entertaining yes, but it is never education, let elone epic as it could have been with the man this story is about. Just take the story with Foxx' character. There is almost nothing before or after the crucial moment when we see him in bed and he says he lost all the money and eventually Ali takes him back. But this story could have been way better. Or take the Malcolm X part (occasionally mistook him for Fox too). That was so showy. We see his assassination very visually, but have not much of a connection between him and Ali before that at all. In a great film, we would have gotten proper elaboration before that and maybe then a call that Ali receives where he finds out about the killing. Again, style over substance. Voight's subplot was okay, but not awards-worthy like I said, and Don King's inclusion was alright too I suppose, certainly among the better aspects here. The man turns 90 next year. I also liked how Ali stood up against him and for his Italian-American buddy. But there again, it sucked because in the long time before that, two hours or so, we barely get any elaboration on why these two are this close. Maybe I am a bit biased here too with this movie because I did not see Ali in a likable way at all. He seems boastful, arrogant and unfaithful and all this more than once too it seems. I mean his reputation and class are undeniable, not even gonna go there, but I kinda prefer the quietly convincing characters. However, this is no criticism against Mann and the people who made this film if it relies on facts and I think it did. Even if a lot of it is still fictionalized, perhaps also the scene in bed with Smith and his wife early on when Ali keeps talking about how awesome he is, again showing us his massive ego. A bit of a weird inclusion if not based on some real footage or quotes, bit I wonder how it would be. What else? Oh yes, the sequence I just mentioned is accompanied by music and they did this on several occasions as we hear a mildly catchy tune in the background and not really the characters talking. Another example would be very early on with this rock concert and the cops who stop him when he is running (racism? ) before they are called to where they are actually needed. I must say I did not like these scenes too much. The approach is one that needs better execution than shown us here. What I did like, however, about this film, maybe liked more than anything else, were the fight sequences in the ring. Those were fine. Props to Smith there, also with his physicality that probably had a lot to do with his Oscar nomination (like with Bale in another boxing movie) and it is no surprise they cast actual boxers to play these greats from the history of the sport. I must say I was a bit critical about Foreman because there was a lot of talk about how he was young and rising and Ali in his early 30s already back then (not an age anymore today) and I felt the actor for Foreman looked way too old, but I checked and he was not much older than Foreman actually during this Rumble in the Jungle spectacle. This was actually the moment I planned on giving it a lower rating because it seemed so off, but eventually I will still be going with three stars out of five, even if it is much closer to two than to four and maybe on a rewatch I will give it two only. But now I will be generous. Like I said, however, one of Mann's more disappointing films for me for sure, even if Ali/Smith is luckily not as cringeworthy as the male cenntral character (lead) in Manhunter. Anything else to say about Ali? Only that like I said the movie is not even close to the level that the man this is about would have deserved, no matter if I like him or not. So I hope maybe they will come up with a new film. Ali himself will not see it anymore, but maybe audiences will. This one here should not be considered defining by any means, especially not when it comes to his religion. That could have been done better too. The closure moment especially when the Supreme Court declares him innocent (really? I mean it is undeniable he refused army service, more elboration on why would have been nice), but the way it is depicted here was fairly disappointing. It felt as if he did not even know this was the day they would decide. Oh well, maybe there really weren't any information given out back then about exact dates. Okay, what else? Ah yes, the famous butterfly/bee quote is also included at least twice and could also have been emphasized more convincingly. The epic shot many have as a photo on the wall from the Liston fight got better treatment. That's all now. Go watch this film, positively recommended, even if I am not enthusiastic about it at all and very accurate that it did not score a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards or anything.