Reviewed by: Gerald Davis
2 hr. 37 min.
Year of Release:
December 25, 2001
As with virtually anything out of Hollywood, “Ali” does not especially cater to Christian sensibilities. After all, “Ali” presents a reverent depiction of a controversial American who rejected Christianity and rejected what Americans once considered a patriotic duty to join the military.
Ali, the man, indeed achieved legendary, heroic status because he got us to understand his actions, whether we entirely agreed or not. “Ali” the movie does the same thing. We come to understand the visceral wisdom of Ali’s anti-Vietnam War stance: “The Viet Cong never called me nigger.” We realize the heroism of someone putting all on the line for principle. We understand, as did the U.S. Supreme Court, that all religions have the same right to Conscientious Objector status.
To fully reveal the man beneath the loud-mouthed swagger, the 2½ hour movie opens with a montage firmly placing Ali in the context of the racially charged mid-1960s. In so doing, “Ali” places the audience into the shoes of black Americans who were then making initial steps toward cultural self-determination from a past of denigration and subjugation.
Ali, along with many among us, made some missteps during this time, chief among them the infatuation with the Nation of Islam, leaping from the lie that Jesus was blond and blue-eyed to the lie that the white man is the Devil. The audience sees his subsequent disillusionment with the Nation’s falsity and manipulation.
As a black American who remembers those times vividly, I was deeply gratified that “Ali” works on the level of making Ali a metaphor for us all.
And it works on the level of being a fantastic fight film, richly rewarding moviegoers seeking true-to-life realism. Repeatedly, scenes flash by that seem exact re-creations of familiar photos and film. For the fight fan, the pugilistic depictions are as stunning in their accuracy as those in the “Rocky” series were embarrassing in their movieish choreography.
This is “relatively” clean for an R-rated movie. The rating comes for its boxing violence and for perhaps a handful of profanities (Kids-in-Mind reports 5 F-words, 5 religious profanities or exclamations, and other instances of crude language). There are some romantic and sexual scenes, one with simulated sexual motion.
As for acting, there can be no exaggeration of Will Smith’s triumph in this role. Just as he beefed up from 185 pounds to 220, he has now developed from being a scrawny little clown as “Fresh Prince” to a true acting heavyweight as Muhammad Ali. Those of us familiar with Ali don’t have to sit there pretending Will Smith is Ali, even though his face doesn’t resemble the champ’s at all. Will Smith IS Ali.