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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of My All-Time Favorite Documentaries
I love this film. Between Muhammad Ali's poetry (and taunts at Howard Cosell's sex life), the awesome, instantaneous, destructive power of a hungry young knight at the apex of his illustrious career--as Howard might have said-- and the one, two, three, four punch of James Brown; life really doesn't get much more exciting.
These are the obvious reasons to love this...
Published on April 28, 2001 by Allan Ostermann

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62 of 72 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Half Great film. Doesn't get the fight right
There is a large hole in this film, and it is in the depiction of the actual fight itself. Everything that led up to the fight is brilliantly presented. This is Ali in all of his greatness. You see his fight strategy unfold as the film progresses. He turns the people of Zaire into his hometown crowd. You watch him psyche himself up by raising the stakes. The fight became...
Published on December 18, 2000 by Jerry J Troiana


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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of My All-Time Favorite Documentaries, April 28, 2001
By 
Allan Ostermann "allan" (Portland (the one on the left)) - See all my reviews
This review is from: When We Were Kings (DVD)
I love this film. Between Muhammad Ali's poetry (and taunts at Howard Cosell's sex life), the awesome, instantaneous, destructive power of a hungry young knight at the apex of his illustrious career--as Howard might have said-- and the one, two, three, four punch of James Brown; life really doesn't get much more exciting.
These are the obvious reasons to love this documentary. But there's also the very real political side; promoting a huge fight in a country ruled by an evil dictator; one who "sent a message" by rounding up a few thousand criminals, and killing them. So it's pretty damn interesting to see some drunken, coked up early 70s music promoter dealing with logistics in lovely Zaire.
I also love listening to what Foreman says, and doesn't say, as I think Norman Mailer mentions in the film. My favorite is when some silly reporter asks him if he thinks Ali will win the fight, or something like that.
"Could be, could be...But I don't think so."
Everything in this film is worthwhile. It even explores a bit of the underbelly of the beast; the world of Don King, boxing promoter, and amoral manipulator (well, I guess the two go hand in hand). And mention is made of Muhammad's current illness, with conflicting views of whether too many beatings took him down.
It's a film about all this and more. The story of Ali is exciting enough, with enough raw courage to put Rocky Balboa to shame. Add a quiet, dispondent, monster of an opponent, the king of sleaze, The Spinners, a sucubus, the evil dictator, George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, and others; and what do you have?
Worthwhile entertainment, my friend. On every level.
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62 of 72 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Half Great film. Doesn't get the fight right, December 18, 2000
By 
Jerry J Troiana (Yarmouth, ME United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: When We Were Kings (DVD)
There is a large hole in this film, and it is in the depiction of the actual fight itself. Everything that led up to the fight is brilliantly presented. This is Ali in all of his greatness. You see his fight strategy unfold as the film progresses. He turns the people of Zaire into his hometown crowd. You watch him psyche himself up by raising the stakes. The fight became more then the heavyweight championship. Ali was going to "walk down the alley ways and sit with the wine heads, and talk to the prostitutes on the streets..." Ali was going to better the world, and restore the black mans pride. All he had to do was beat Foreman first. And he loved to be the underdog. He loved to shock the world when nobody gave him a chance in hell of winning. You see him asking an audience of fight writers, "Who's got George picked? Raise your hands. Who thinks George is gonna whup me?" At a news conference he told Don King, "I know you got George picked, but I'm gonna show you all just how great I am."
By the time Ali stepped into the ring, Foreman didn't stand a chance. Ali was almost a decade past his prime, and Foreman was in the middle of his, but Ali was about to shred him, and this is where this film falls short. The fight is simply not accurately depicted. The film focuses almost exclusively on Ali's rope-a-dope strategy. You are left with the impression that Ali was pounded on the ropes for 8 rounds, only to explode in a moment of glory, knocking out a tired and caught of guard Foreman. That is simply not the way it happened. There were 8 rounds in this fight, and Ali won all 8 of them. True, he did lay on the ropes a lot, but that was only a portion of his strategy. He demoralized Foreman by taking his best shots, and scoffing at them. Ali would taunt Foreman, "Is THAT all you got George?" Then Ali would hit him with blistering combinations, almost at will. Foreman was staggered, several times. He was the perfect opponent for Ali because his head was a stationary target. Ali used it for a speed bag. Foreman's face was puffy and swollen by the third round. Ali's didn't have a mark on it. Even Joe Frazier, who was doing commentary during the fight had to admit, "I don't think George is gonna make it." He said that somewhere around the 5th. Jim Brown, who was also doing commentary, repeated over and over again, "Muhammad Ali is unreal." But you see none of this in this film. Despite what the film shows you, Ali picked Foreman apart. He was way past his prime, but this was, no doubt, his finest hour. Had Ali fought Foreman, or Frazier, or Norton, or anyone for that matter, when he was in his prime, their names would have been forgotten like all of the others that Ali disposed of early in his career. The name Joe Frazier would be familiar only to avid fight buffs, in the way the name Zorra Folley is now (one of Ali's early victims).
Buy this DVD. What it does well, it does very well. But I strongly encourage you to follow it up by watching the entire fight. You can see it on "Muhammad Ali, The Greatest Collection." Then you will know the entire story.
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36 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "When We Were Kings" is Award Winning Boxing Documentary, September 3, 2005
This review is from: When We Were Kings (DVD)
For anyone who does not know the story that led up to this fight, here it is: In 1964, the mouthy impetuous Cassius Clay (soon to become Muhammad Ali) a 10 to 1 underdog, defeats the supposedly undefeatable Sonny Liston to become heavyweight boxing champion at just 22 years old. Clay used his unbelievable speed to pepper Liston into quitting on his stool after the 6th round. In 1967, Ali is stripped of his title for refusing to be drafted in the Vietnam War. Ali is reinstated in 1970 after a 3 and 1/2 year lay-off during his physical prime. Ali, now 29 years old, must fight Joe Frazier (who is in his physical prime at 27) to regain his crown. The two meet in Madison Square Garden in the "Fight of the Century", this first time two undefeated champions meet for the title. Ali loses to Frazier in 15 grueling rounds and it appears his chance to regain the title is history. In 1972, Ali is defeated by a relative unknown, Kenny Norton, in a 15-round decision that sees Norton break Ali's jaw. It appears that Ali is finished. In 1973, Frazier loses the title to the young, powerful, Sonny Liston-like slugger, George Foreman. Foreman bounces Frazier around in the ring like a rubber ball, knocking him down 7 times before the fight is ended. After easily KO'ing the imposing Kenny Norton in one round, Foreman is seen as undefeatable, just as Sonny Liston was in 1964.

Now it's 1974, Muhammed Ali is 32 and thought to be well past his prime by the press and boxing world. Even his handlers feel Ali cannot beat Foreman and they fear Ali will be hurt badly by Foreman. Foreman is ten years younger and undefeated Heavyweight champion of the world, a title he appears to own for the next decade or more. Fight Promoter Don King offers both fighters a record 5 million dollars apiece to fight. King finds a financial backer in Mobutu Sese Suko, the dictator of Zaire and the fight is set. Ali nick-names the fight the "Rumble in the Jungle" and looks forward to fighting Foreman in his ancestral "homeland" of Africa.

The documentary shows all the prefight shennanigans in detail, which builds to the actual fight night. In the moments leading up to the fight, while Ali and his corner men are in the tunnel waiting to emerge to the ring, Ali senses the dour, almost funeral-like mood, and chastises his group for not believing in his ability to beat Foreman. He leads his group forward to meet Foreman, with Ali the only one convinced that he can win. The fight is terrific. Ali plans to dance and move around the relatively slow and immovable Foreman, peppering him with jabs and right crosses much like he did to Liston 10 years earlier. But Ali expends so much energy trying to avoid the KO punching Foreman that he knows he cannot keep it up over 15 rounds, so he decides on the spur of the momment to lay on the ropes and let Foreman hit him in hopes of tiring Big George and later decisioning him. Foreman, seeing Ali on the ropes right where he wants him, wades in and begins pounding on the stationary Ali. Ali proves difficult to hit even though he is not moving! Round after exhausting round, Foreman pounds Ali to the body, and then throws haymakers to the head hoping to overwhelm Ali and knock him out. But Ali survives the best of what George can deliver and in the 8th round he comes off the ropes and tags Foreman with a series of rights and lefts that drops George to the canvas! A stunned Foreman is counted out by Zach Clayton the referee and ALi is once again the champion!

After the fight, Ali holds a conference where he angrily chastises the press for writing him off as a fighter. Ali then proceeds in a monsoon rainstorm to his headquarters in the dead of night, himself stunned by the Africans who line the street in the downpour hoping for a glimpse at the new champion.

It is all very well done and is a must for any serious boxing fan. I highly recommend it.

konedog
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great film, crap DVD, November 13, 2004
By 
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This review is from: When We Were Kings (DVD)
This DVD does NOT contain the entire film seen in the theaters. The Beatles scenes are entirely gone, and my favorite song from the movie is also missing, as it also is from the soundtrack. The DVD also has no special features at all.

If you loved the movie, you have to buy it, but you don't have to be happy about it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars American Journey, African Props, February 26, 2003
By 
William McNeill (Austin, Texas USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: When We Were Kings (DVD)
Leon Gast's documentary about the legendary Ali-Foreman fight works on all advertised levels. It is a fascinating snapshot of central Africa in the mid-1970s and a glimpse of Muhammad Ali at the peak of his charisma. The blow-by-blow account of the match is riveting even for people who could care less about boxing. Beneath its colorful exterior, however, lurks a disturbing political subtext that reveals how deeply cynical American attitudes towards Africa can be, even when those attitudes are held by African Americans.

When the "Rumble in the Jungle" promoters traveled to Zaire in 1974, they were entering one of the worst disaster zones in post-colonial Africa. Fourteen years earlier, Joseph Mobutu had seized power after torturing and murdering Patrice Lumumba, the leader of the nationalist movement and Zaire's first Prime Minister. He did so with the help of the CIA, who had fingered Lumumba as a potential troublemaker. Mobutu's government (which lasted until his overthrow in 1997) was brutally repressive when it bothered to govern at all. Even by the standards of African strongmen, Mobutu was a monster, and this was as clear in 1974 as it is today. Yet almost no one in "When We Were Kings", either the subjects of the documentary or present-day commentators, has anything to say about it. The fact that Mobutu was a dictator is mentioned only is passing, and is quickly shrugged off. He was an African leader, seems to be the attitude. They're all dictators. What do you expect? Then it's on to Ali's inspired riffing for the press and the inner workings of the rope-a-dope.

If Gast's film were only about boxing, its cynicism might just be bearable. After all, no one pictures Don King losing sleep over geopolitical niceties. But "When We Were Kings" also has a political agenda. It wants to depict a heady moment in the Black Power movement when African American luminaries traveled to Africa to express solidarity for the people of that continent. For the Americans in the movie, the trip to Africa was a profound exploration of their heritage and identity. We see Ali moved by the experience and don't doubt that he's sincere. It's just not clear what the Africans got out of the deal. They seem mostly just props in the first worlders' journey of self-discovery. In one of the movie's few interviews with an African, a man recalls how Ali's visit was a bright spot in the lives of many of his countrymen, who were generally having a hard time of it. That's about the best "When We Were Kings" can do by way of justification. Given the circumstances, this silence is galling. Maybe Ali could have come up with a clever rhyme for "let them eat cake."

Of course, it's a fact that many post-colonial governments were and are dictatorships, and Africa got more than its fair share. A certain degree of cynicism about third-world politics is realistic. But when the subject is Africa, a whole other level of cynicism comes into play: not only do you accept injustice; you don't even have to rationalize your acceptance. There's no way back in 1974 a left-wing Chilean-American boxer would have taken part in a title bout staged by Augusto Pinochet. Nor would Muhammad Ali have fought in the U.S. in a match bankrolled by a black gangster with known ties to white supremacists. So why does Mobutu's dog-and-pony show get a pass? The culprit appears to be the need on the part of the African Americans in the movie to romanticize Africa. (Tellingly, almost no one says the word "Zaire.") In one scene, Muhammad Ali stands in the cockpit of an African airliner. He expresses amazement at the fact that blacks can fly a jet plane, then amazement at himself for having ever thought otherwise. It's a powerful moment. You can see how a black American-even someone as lauded as Ali-would crave an idealized image of Africa to serve as armor against the insidiousness of racism back home. Unfortunately, idealization comes at the price of ignoring a continent's worth of reality. In order to raise your fist, you have to close your eyes.

In his scathing criticism of "Heart of Darkness", the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe accuses Joseph Conrad of a particular sort of racism. What bothered him was the way that Conrad used an entire continent and its people as nothing more than a foil for European introspection: "Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor." "When We Were Kings" is about as far from racist as a movie can get, but it still falls into Conrad's trap. Here the backdrop is a romantic notion of an African motherland, and the human factor is the reality of the brutally oppressive Mobutu regime. Gast may have gone all the way to Africa to get his footage, but the mindset of his film never left home.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When Ali was King!, December 19, 2001
By 
Eric V. Moye (New York, by way of Dallas) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: When We Were Kings (DVD)
This film was well worth the long (almost twenty year) delay. A great documentary on "The Rumble in the Jungle" which marked the return of Muhammad Ali to the top of the boxing world. While this bout was not as great (according to boxing afficionados) as the epic "Thrilla in Manila" against Joe Frazier, it does go down as one of The Champ's greatest victories. Few gave him a shot at beating the supposedly indestructible George Foreman (who had destroyed Frazier twice before this fight). George Forman has had a fascinating turnabout. Few people remember him as the smiling, gentle giant that he has transformed himself into. Back then, he would have scared Tyson, as the rogue-ish evil and almost vicious bad man he was. However, as a friend of mine said after this screening, a good A.W. will often do that for a man.
Don King did put on a happening, and much of it is captured in this great documentary. The fight was preceded by a number of other events, including musicians (like James Brown, B.B. King and the Spinners), dancers and celebs. Much of that was captured here.
Much of the dialogue was provided by dueling journalists Norman Mailer and George Plimpton, each trying to outdo one another on the import of the fight. I agree with another reviewer, it would have been great to hear from Ferdie Pacheco and Angelo Dundee, the men in Ali's corner.
During this time, Ali was called the most recognizable man in the World. I sure would not have bet against that. This film captures much of the character which made him a great figure, as well as a great boxer.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the one to see, about Muhammad Ali!, February 15, 2004
This review is from: When We Were Kings (DVD)
As a little ol' white girl, about 10 or 11, I listened to a "fight" on the radio one night. How I came to be interested in it is beyond me, but I remember being alone in the house. As I sat there listening, the commentator became so excited describing the action that I couldn't help but get caught up in the moment. And then he won! All the sudden I hear, "I Am The Greatest! I Am The Greatest!" I could hear the pandemonium in the background, but his voice rang out, proud and sassy, over and above it. Cassius Clay was the new Heavyweight Champion! Whatever that is. Hey - I wasn't that old! Only later did I realize how momentous this bout was in the annals of sports.
Flash forward 40 years. I would hear about the latest news of Muhammad Ali on occasion and I never missed an opportunity to watch him on TV. He was so brash and funny in the way he talked, but so formidable when he stepped into the ring. I would always think back to that night. The sport of boxing is so far removed from my life that when I speak of him, my admiration and opinions are generally dismissed as "something this woman could know nothing about". But you see, they're wrong. Ali reaches through to those you would least expect. That is the magic of his spirit. But try to explain that to somebody. When I saw this film the first time I smiled all the way through it. I knew I had the means to finally communicate the joy in discovering this athlete's allure - the humor, the boldness, the grace and the strength. I recommend this film to all my friends and family or to anyone I talk to about Muhammad Ali. It captures a moment in history. There's music and mayhem and so much energy - it feels like you're there! The interviews and commentary of those who reminisce on the event adds depth to the story of how it all transpired. The momentum builds as the fight begins with Foreman and the magnitude of their efforts is astounding. If you've never seen him box or heard him pontificate - as only he can - you are in for a treat! Bask in the glory of this film. And thank God we have it for posterity.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An insight into late 20th century culture and racial issues, February 5, 1999
By A Customer
In WHEN WE WERE KINGS, Leon Gast portrays 1974's "Rumble in the Jungle" as a cultural milestone in American history. This is more than a film on boxing -- it sheds light on the entire sport of boxing and, more importantly, on issues of race in America and rest of the world in the late 20th century. Intellectuals such as Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, and Spike Lee add comentary, and ask questions such as: Who was the "good" black boxer? Who should we root for, the draft-dodging but personable and funny Ali, aged and probably past his prime, or the super-talented, but also aloof and arrogant, Foreman. The contrast between the ways in which each boxer relates to the black Africans in Zaire is interesting and touching, and the fans' pre- and mid-fight chants trying to rally the losing Ali stay with you long after the film has faded to black. The film sets off at a lightnign quick pace and never slows down, and the last twenty minutes is among the most triumphant filmmaking, documentary or fictional, that I have ever seen. This film is a must see for sport fans, cultural historians, and anybody who loves good movies.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow, May 23, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: When We Were Kings (DVD)
What I expected to get out of this movie: Ali, a great fight, trash talkin', maybe some historical perspective
What I got out of this movie: Admiration for the pure genius of Ali (both as a fighter and a character), perspective of 1974 America and its struggle with racial issues and post-Vietnam, a sports time capsule back to a time when boxing was still "noble"
Great film
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Moment Frozen in Time, November 20, 2007
This review is from: When We Were Kings (DVD)
"When We Were Kings" is Leon Gast and Taylor Hackford's 1996 Academy Award-winning documentary film of "the Rumble in the Jungle", the heavyweight title fight between defending champion George Foreman and once and future champion Muhammad Ali.

Today's viewers are apt to know George Foreman as a genial TV commerical pitchman and Muhammad Ali as a revered but sadly physically deteriorated symbol of the sixties. In 1974, George Foreman was the undefeated heavywieght boxing champion of the world. His size, strength, and punching had literally leveled a series of opponents. Muhammad Ali was an aging former champion, stripped of his title for his refusal to be inducted into the U.S. military against the dictates of his religion, and on the comeback trail. Very few people gave the colorful and vocal ex-champ much of a chance in the ring against Foreman. Some thought he might be killed. Only Ali seemed confident in his own destiny.

Gast and Hackford follow the action in Kinshasa as the two boxers prepare for their match and as celebrities and ring personalities circle the proceedings. At the center of the movie is the outsized personality of Ali, talking up a good fight and reaching out to the people in Zaire. By the time the two boxers entered the ring, Ali had converted Kinshasa into a home crowd.

The fight itself featured one of the more daring ring strategies ever seen. Ali spent much of the middle rounds of the fight in the "rope-a-dope," leaning far back on the ring ropes, riding out Foreman's truly awesome punching power and waiting for his moment to strike.

This movie is an absolutely superb viewing experience for fans of the fight game as it used to be, and for fans of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman at their prime as boxers.
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When We Were Kings
When We Were Kings by Leon Gast (DVD - 2002)
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