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VINE VOICEon April 3, 2008

Will Smith is eerily like Ali. It's like Cassiuss Clay is playing himself. I remember watching Clay fight in the Olympics and Smith has him down pat. I'd admired Ali for being willing to go to prison for his convictions instead of fleeing to Canada like all the other bed-wetting, Mommas boys who opposed the War in Viet Nam. Jon Voight is good as Howard Cosell, who was a nobody until he weaseled his way into Ali's life. I understand that Smith and Voight both received Academy Award nominations for their roles in this move. I wonder how Smith "bulked up" for this role.

Highly recommended for fans of Will Smith, Jon Voight, boxing the way it use to be, and Cassius Clay, aka Mohammed Ali.

Gunner April, 2008
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on February 18, 2002
The movie "Ali" portrays the story of one of the world's most recognized boxers, Mohammed Ali (who was born Cassius Clay).
Actor Will Smith gives an excellent performance as boxer Ali. It is hard enough to portray a real character, much less a legendary one. Smith is successful in showing not only the physical side but also the charisma of the boxing personality, Ali, who has strong convictions and a funny wit.
The movie begins with Ali's fight against boxer Sonny Liston, which puts him on the map as a fighter. It ends with Ali's fight with George Foreman in Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of Congo). This famous fight was billed as the 'Rumble in the Jungle.' In between, the movie covers the fighter's rise to success, his conversion to the Muslim religion, his name change and his fight against the U.S. government to keep from being enlisted in the army. We also see Ali's close friendship to two well-known people - sportscaster Howard Cosell and Malcom X.
The movie "Ali" also touches on the boxer's attraction to women and some of his many love relationships. (Smith's real life's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, plays the role of Ali's first wife.) Ali is certainly attracted to all pretty women!
All the actors give wonderful performances - Jamie Foxx as Bundini Brown (the man who worked to motivate Ali and help him with his rhymes - "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!"), Jon Voight as Howard Cosell, Mario Van Peebles as Malcolm X, Mykelti Williamson as Don King, Giancarlo Esposito as Cassius Clay Sr., Jada Pinkett Smith as Sonji Roi (Ali's first wife) and Nona M. Gaye as Belinda Boyd, to name a few.
The shots especially of some of the African countries (Ghana, Mozambique and South Africa) are vibrant and rich.
Although I'm not much of a boxing fan and sometimes found the boxing scenes a bit prolonged, all in all I found the movie a great story of a great athlete set to a great music soundtrack.
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on April 29, 2002
This film is everyhting you thought it would be and then some. I am 20 years old and did not have the plessure to live through the "Ali years." Although I have seen many sports documentaries and have read several books about the man, no one film or book captures the mythical essence of Ali as this movie does.
It is true that it would have been nice to see the young years when Clay grew up in Louisville, KY (just 30 miles from me,) and competed in the Olympics for the gold medal. (Which he then tossed into the Ohio River.) But, this film is about the man, the myth, and the legend. When the film is viewed like this, it is more understandable.
There are some of the most powerful moments in a "sports" film ever here. Being a serious fan of "Rudy," "Hoosiers," (I love Gene Hackman and I am from Indiana,) and "Rocky", I can say that the moment were Ali gets up out of the chair in the 8th to knock out Foreman after the now classic "rope a dope" form was used to wear him out is simplely uplifting. Is it correct to the actual event? No, I have the HBO DVD special to prove it. But it doesn't matter. Like I said, this film is about Ali, not the history of what Ali did.
Some things that make this movie special: They really hit each other. No "Rocky" high uppercuts that don't even graze Mr. T or Apollo Creed. Jamie Foxx is a brillant actor and extremely funny. "I'm just a black jew who can't read or write and that's half drunk." The fact that Will Smith and his wife make a love scene covencing because they really and truely are IN LOVE!... Howard is played brillantly in this movie. You can't tell that it's an actor!... "And Foreman goes DOWN HARD to the mat!..." That call makes my spine tingle.
The most powerful moment of all is when Malcom X is shot and killed. When I saw it in the theature, everyone was silent and teary-eyed. That may be the best thing about this movie and ultimately, Ali. Black, white, yellow, red, purple, you can fill things in this movie for the times they lived in, for the things they went through, and for Ali the man, the myth, the legend, himself.
If you never see another movie about sports in your life, see this. Will Smith is stunning. He IS ALI for due purposes. The acting is great and the film as a whole is stunning. Just brillant.........
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon December 30, 2001
ALI is the tribute to the now almost-recluse Muhammad, starring Will Smith in his undeniably best screen performance ever. The film spans the period from 1964, when Ali took the heavyweight boxing crown from Sonny Liston, to 1974 when he won it back from George Foreman. In between, Muhammad engineers a name change (from Cassius Clay), runs through a couple of wives, contests a draft evasion conviction with the U.S. Justice Department all the way to the Supreme Court, becomes pals with Howard Cosell, has an on and off relationship with Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, and loudly proclaims himself as The Greatest to whomever will listen. All of these events are part of the public record.
Ali is arguably the greatest heavyweight boxer the United States has produced. He was loud and obnoxious, but he did (and still does) have class. Unfortunately, his great career, and the Champ himself, are shortchanged by ALI. Rather than being a seamless visual and dramatic narrative, the film is a series of snapshots disjointedly strung together with too much emphasis on some people and events, and not enough on others. This film is badly in need of some serious editing. As examples, Malcolm X and much of the Zaire pre-Rumble sojourn should have been left on the cutting room floor (or, in this age of digital editing, in the computer's Recycle Bin). Moreover, the screenwriters didn't take the time to sufficiently introduce the audience to some of the characters, and at several points I mentally asked, "Who are those people?" And, in a bigger lapse, those same screenwriters don't allow us a perception of Ali the man that goes much deeper than his surface bombast and popular charisma. I'm left knowing (and caring) more about the fictional character of Stallone's Rocky Balboa than the real-life Ali. (Honey, you haven't given my ROCKY I, II, III, and IV tapes to Goodwill, have you? I want to see them all again.)
Despite its major flaws, the film does incorporate two acting performances of note. First of all, there's Smith's. While it may not be good enough to merit this year's Academy Award for Best Male Actor, Will should justifiably be nominated at least, and this performance is his best to date. Also, Jon Voight's Howard Cosell perfectly captures the man that those of us of a certain age remember and love (or hate). In a single year, Voight has played both Cosell and FDR (in PEARL HARBOR). For an actor, I suppose the roles don't get much better than those.
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on June 18, 2016
I was surprised to find this DVD double-combo on AMAZON at such a good price featuring both the Will Smith movie from 2001 (written & directed by Michael Mann) but also containing the lesser-known 1977 auto-biographical film 'The Greatest" starring Muhammad Ali portraying himself!

I had seen the Will Smith film when it played in theaters in 2001 (and re-watched on this DVD, after Ali's recent passing).
Much effort and budgetary-resources were obviously put into the Smith/Mann film on Ali = the fine acting and authentic settings (and expert cinematography) bring you into Muhammad Ali's World showcasing his meteoric rise as Boxing's authentic 'Greatest' while reluctantly becoming a burgeoning counter-culture leader (and controversial figure during the later 1960's) for his refusal to serve in Vietnam, and loss of title and ability to Box for three years after (along with his earlier close-friendship with Malcom X)

Will Smith gives a realistic-believable-intense performance as Ali (and Mario Van Peebles provides a very moving & introspective performance as Malcom X, who comes across as a resonant but quite tragic figure here)
If there is a critique about Will Smith's performance, it is that he did not completely-convey the full-scope and multi-Layers to Ali's character = there is less emphasis on the poetic 'bravado' and mischievous 'fun' that seemed inherent to Muhammad Ali's younger-self (I was not born when Ali fought Sonny Liston, but when you watch older newsreels, or videos of Ali in his prime poetically 'rapping' with the media, numerous times with Howard Cosell and others...... there is no doubt he was actually having a good-time mastering the media's game)
Will Smith's performance definitely focused more on the heavily dramatic and intense aspects of Ali's Life, with not as much emphasis on Ali's effortless poetic-humor and playfulness in front of the cameras (which ultimately became indelible memories in the public's imagination). Another slightly perplexing aspect to Smith/Mann's film is that Ali's adversaries (Joe Frazier and George Foreman) also seemed less interesting in this film (and more one-dimensional) than they both were in real Life....

The second film featured is the real surprise = "The Greatest" starring the one-and-only Muhammad Ali as himself! This was an actual theatrical film from 1977 that had a number of 'name' stars and experienced thespians in the supporting cast, like James Earl Jones as Malcom X and Ernest Borgnine as Angelo Dundee. In addition, this movie starts with a really young Ali (portrayed by Chip McAllister) winning the Olympic Gold Medal, and first returning to Louisville, KY (encountering aspects of racism upon his return)

It is fascinating once the movie transitions to the real Muhammad Ali after about 20 minutes into the film, I believe this movie was produced/photographed during 1976 and Ali was already about 35 years-old, playing a version of himself about 10-years younger (at least in the earlier sections meeting Malcom X and fighting Sonny Liston), but the pleasant surprise is that Ali is a natural (and always charismatic) actor... and is especially authentic-resonant when just 'being Ali' = i.e. full of bravado and charisma when poetically 'rapping' with the media (Ali's naturally poetic, nearly musical 'cadences' and sheer joy at delivering those effortless rhymes & rhythms seemed a bit lacking in the Will Smith version mentioned above - but the real Ali is here!)

Another positive aspect to the film "The Greatest" is that it includes the fantastic George Benson version of the indelible Song; 'the Greatest Love of All' (a significant Hit for Whitney Houston in the late 1980's) but originally written by Michael Masser for this film from 1977 (the musicality, perfect backing arrangements and Benson's spot-on vocal-performance make this version the absolutely Classic definitive one, perfectly fitting the core message of this film)

note: impressive and inspiring funeral service last week (televised on C-Span) = per Ali's prior request, the service brought together inter-faith leaders including Christian Pastors, Jewish Rabbis, Buddhist Priests and of course Muslim Imams, and even comedian Billy Crystal who recreated his uncanny impersonation of both Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell, originally from the 1970's
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on February 21, 2016
So, this movie was solidly done, but like I said in my headline, it hit some (kind of serious) off-notes. I feel that, underlying the whole movie was a very solid and interesting effort from Michael Mann. As most people know, Michael Mann is the director who is pretty much a visual genius, who brought us the original "Miami Vice" back in the 1980s. Mann can hit some serious genius notes when exploring place and style, as with Miami in "Miami Vice," or Africa with "Ali." He does texture, philosophical pondering, and atmosphere almost like no one else. The only thing is that not everything he does is a hit. Like "Ali" for example. One of the big things that I see other people mentioning is the ponderous nature of Muhammad Ali's trip to Africa. Mann goes way out on a branch for Ali's trip to Africa, and I almost follow Mann's directing here, but not quite. Ali's trip to Africa all of a sudden slows way down. The dialogue and action almost disappear and it turns into Ali wandering around Zaire silently, just taking in the sights. I almost get what Michael Mann is doing here, but not quite. He is saying "Look, isn't Africa interesting? Isn't the look and film of the 1960s and '70s interesting?" The texture of the film (which seems true to the period), the lights, the technology and all that. "Isn't it interesting?" is what Mann is saying, I believe. And it is, but for some reason, I just don't quite follow him in his hypnotic trance of wandering around a place with no dialogue in a style similar to Terrence Malick.

What Mann is doing is almost brilliant, and I almost follow him completely, but unfortunately, what knocks me out of this trance is the fact that, when you watch a movie, you are constantly looking for the action. The viewer is constantly asking himself "Why did that just happen?" Unfortunately, there is no real reason for Mann to be wandering around Zaire with a camera. There is no muscular plot reason to do that. It is just philosophical wondering on the part of the first person (Muhammad Ali). Also, the rest of the tone and atmosphere of the movie doesn't fit this tone. The idea behind this section of the movie is brilliant, but for some reason, the execution is not. I hate saying that because "Miami Vice" was a brilliant show that nailed tone and look maybe better than any TV show ever.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning and state that this movie is about Muhammad Ali taking the world title early in the '60s, and it follows him to the "Rumble in the Jungle" in 1974. Certainly, this is a great time period to follow Ali, but some of the developments seem disjointed, and disconnected to each other. I often times say that making a biopic is a bad idea because the director has to stay true to what happened, and characters and events are often not that explosive, and are often disjointed like this; people's lives aren't just one story. One gets that feeling with "Ali," that the whole story with Malcolm X is sort of disconnected, and pretty much should have been another movie. The same could be said of his wives and his whole involvement with the Nation of Islam in general. Another question is: "How did Will Smith do?" I personally am just one of the people who feels that Will Smith just did not knock it out of the park on this performance. He was up against the fact that Ali was such a public figure that we all know what Ali was like, and anyone doing an imitation of him had a long ways to go. I just feel that Smith did not capture the playful side of Ali very well. His imitation seemed a little flat and drab. It lacked Ali's spontaneity and I just didn't feel like I was looking at Ali all the way through this movie. Don't get me wrong: Smith stretched himself pretty far for this role, and it was far from a poor acting job, it's just that it wasn't fantastic, and wasn't a dead-ringer for Ali. There were also a few moments in there where Michael Mann's directing almost felt a little amateur-ish and TV like. When Michael Mann ran "Miami Vice," he developed tone so well. There was such a dark, philosophical tone to "Miami Vice." Shots of Don Johnson just standing there with palm trees swaying in the background seemed to have so much meaning. Mann tries something like that here with "Ali," but it is a punch that just doesn't quite land. It is a shame, because I am really not giving up on the idea that Mann can be quite a genius. But "Ali" fails more than it succeeds. I give it 2.5 to 3 stars.
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on February 2, 2002
The movie focuses on the time between when a young Cassius Clay first wins the Heavyweight Championship of the World from Sonny Liston and when a 32 year old Muhammad Ali regains the Championship from George Foreman at the Rumble in the Jungle. The movie focuses less on Ali in the ring and
more on his life outside. You see the multiple marriages, his conversion to Islam, his fractured relationship with Malcolm X, and most importantly his battle with the United States Courts when Ali refused to serve in Viet Nam.
Michael Mann directs this in his usual visual intense style. If you have ever seen a production by Mann (Miami Vice, The Last of the Mohicanns, and The Insider to name a small few) you know that he deals with a variety of colors to focus the movie and the scenery tells the story almost as much
as the script.
The acting is superb by almost everyone involved in the movie but a few people really stand out. Will Smith proves that Robert De Niro is not the only one who will gain weight by packing about 20 to 30 pounds of muscle on his frame and then completely immerses himself in the cadence and style
of Ali's speech. Few actors today would seem to have the capability to spout off some of Ali's tirades as Will does. Jamie Foxx does an incredible job as Bundini Brown. His breakdown on drugs and the fight back to sobriety shows that this former In Living Color co-star can handle a great deal more
than we originally thought. The surprise of the movie was Jon Voight. People have portrayed Howard Cosell before but Voight actually becomes him. He sounded like Cosell and the make-up job was so detailed that I had to look a couple of times before I was able to actually recognize Voight. The relationship between Ali and Cosell is played up on many levels showing how
each actually helped catapult the other into the levels of stardom that they reached.
The movie is very, very well done. The script was tight and didn't stray into too many areas that would have dragged the movie down. The direction was on top and the dialogue was rapid fire and concise.
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on December 16, 2013
The Will Smith movie is as mediocre as a biopic can get. I cannot recommend it in any way. The one from the 70s starring Ali himself though!!! Wow I love this movie!!!

To be clear, it's not very well made in the objective sense. It's actually one of the most hamhanded movies I've ever seen. This movie has the style and approach of a propaganda film, with every scene designed to either glorify some aspect of Ali or get us to sympathize with his hardships. Right from the opening image, in which he trains to the lyrics "I believe that children are our future."

Adding to all of this is the fact that Ali is really not an actor... but does remain one of the most most hyper-charismatic people who ever lived. It creates this bizarre mishmash of styles that's hard to even describe. I consider this film to be high camp, and yet I don't even watch at it with a laugh-at/derisive sort of attitude because of how much I do love Ali. I actually get wrapped up in the propagandistic, hamhanded whirlwind, even while I'm aware of its presence! And sorry for using the words "propaganda" and "hamhanded" so much, but those are the two most perfect possible words to describe this movie. Well maybe a third, "endearing." It really does work, in some strange, unexpected way. In conclusion, if you like Ali and unintentionally surrealist cinema, you cannot do any better than this.
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on June 7, 2004
When Ali was released in 2001 it received decidedly mixed reviews. While Will Smith was praised for his impressive physical transformation into legendary boxer Muhammed Ali, the film itself was criticized for revealing nothing new about the man. Herein lies the problem that Michael Mann and company faced: how do you shed new light on one of the most documented historical figures of the 20th Century? Like he did with The Last of the Mohicans, Mann has revisited Ali again on DVD with a new cut of the film. He's taken out approximately 20 minutes of footage and put 30 minutes of previously unseen footage back in. The effect? Hard to tell unless you've seen the film many times but Mann claims that the politics of the times are more the focus this time around.
There is an audio commentary by writer/director Michael Mann. He does an excellent job of putting the film into its historical context. The director clearly did his homework and points out who everyone is and the significance of the events depicted in the movie which is a nice consideration for viewers not familiar with this particular period of time. This is an extremely informative track and Mann contributes many very thoughtful observations over the course of the movie.
"The Making of Ali" is a 29-minute featurette that originally aired on HBO. It is slightly better than your average electronic press kit and features some decent on the set footage and interview sound bites with Mann and various members of the cast.
Ali eschews the traditional docudrama for a more impressionistic take on the man and life. Mann's film may not say anything new about the famous boxer, but it does depict an exciting ten years of his life in a masterful and richly evocative fashion. This DVD features an excellent transfer of the movie with an aggressive 5.1 surround soundtrack and is definitely worth purchasing for Mann fans for his audio commentary alone.
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on August 17, 2002
I'm sorry, but I just couldn't resist that one. I been wanting to say that ever since this movie first came out. All jokes aside though, Will Smith really does turn in a pretty convincing performance as one of the most exciting and provocative figures in history. The heart and passion he put into his performance is clearly evident, and that's something you just have to admire. And I honestly wish I could base my opinion solely on his performance, so I could give the overall movie a higher rating, but, alas, a real fan or critic just can't fairly do that, so I'm forced to look at it all wich doesn't measure up unfortunately.
After all the hype surrounding this movie, dating all the way back to when it was in the development process and the talk in the rumor mill of all the training that Smith was undergoing to muscle up and really tackle the role, I just had really high expectations for it. But, the finished product is just less-than-stellar. And most of this is due to an incredibly choppy and confusing script. One of the big problems with the writing is that it leaves several crucial points unresolved, for example it never goes into depth about the failures of Ali's first two marriages. Instead it breezes right by the problems and tensions as if they're just trivial little facts. This belies another problem in this movie which is the chronological order of events. It's not that it doesn't follow the chronological order of Ali's life, but it never lets us know EXACTLY WHERE we're at. We're given a date of 1964 at the beginning, but after that nothing. Are we just s'posed to figure it out for ourselves or be able to follow along well enough to know when a year goes by, two years? And Smith doesn't really age at all over the course of the film so that makes it even more difficult. So that aspect of it really aggravated me. Most of the cast have good chemistry together, and a few of the supporting players actually turn in excellent work as well, particularly Jaimie Fox as "Bundini" Brown, and John Voight, who gave an incredibly authentic performance as Howard Cossell. Nona Gaye's breakthrough performance as Ali's second wife Belinda, is quite admirable considering she was given very little to work with.
Basically, a few re-writes in the script and maybe a different director would've suited this movie just fine. That's not to say that Michael Mann hacked 'Ali' up for all it was worth; it's a very beautiful-looking film, using popular music from the '60s and '70s quite well to heighten the emotions of some scenes as well as give an authentic aura of the time period, but the overall feeling is style over substance. I like Mann as a director, he's done good work in the past with movies like 'Heat' and the widely-acclaimed 'The Insider', but he just wasn't the right man for the job.
The only two moments of the film which really grabbed my attention were Ali's emotional reaction upon hearing of Malcolm X's death, and the final boxing match in Zaire with George Foreman, so I'd say to at least rent the movie for those scenes alone, as well as to see some of the great performances. Just don't expect to be totally grabbed by it all. The DVD has basically no features, which kind of surprised me, but didn't really bother me, since I don't really care about the details of how this film was made. All I would've cared about is maybe seeing some interviews with the real Ali, and maybe some television archives of some of his boxing matches and press conferences. Now, don't let my dryness fool ya, this is NOT by any means a terrible movie. It's just it could've been much, MUCH better.
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