ninth symphony films - movie reviews

ALI (2001)

DIRECTOR  -  michael mann

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  biography

LENGTH  -  159 minutes

RELEASED  -  25 december 2001

DISTRIBUTOR  -  columbia pictures


ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $107,000,000
ali - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from ali at

buy the dvd from ali at

a biography of boxing legend muhammad ali.

michael mann and eric roth, the writing team behind the insider, heavily revised rivele and wilkinson's script. a writer's guild arbitration ruled on 1 october 2001 that all four would have credit for the screenplay.


picture from ali

picture from ali

picture from ali

picture from ali


two out of four possible stars

In almost three hours, Michael Mann, the director of Ali, is unable to take the viewer beyond what the audience will already know from existing stock footage of Muhammad Ali's life. The film never digs deep enough into the life of the boxing legend, and as a result, the film just scratches the surface of the life of an incredible man. What is shown to the audience in 167 minutes of film is a series of scenes from about fifteen years of Muhammad Ali's life. The cinematography is of the hand-held documentary variety, and it gives the film an air of authenticity. But this style of filmmaking also takes away from any personal information that comes out in the film. And unfortunately, there is not a lot in this film that allows the viewer to "forget what you think you know," as the tag-line for this film has so proudly stated.

Ironically, most of what you learn in the film is information available in the public domain. Stuff like interviews with Howard Cosell, expertely played by Jon Voight, and the boxing matches that ali participated in. It's like Michael Mann pieced together all the available documentary footage on Ali and spliced it together to make this film. And, as was stated before, the documentary feel to the film adds to this feeling that you're watching a program on PBS. Which is by no means a bad thing, but for this type of big budget production, it's pretty certain that viewers are looking for more than just a glorified documentary. But aside for its mistakes in story, this film has many good points which sometimes are able to overshadow the film's shortcomings. For example, every performance in the film was authentic and "gritty" (an over-used word, but applicable nonetheless) enough to create believable scenes from Ali's life.

Will Smith does a more than credible job playing Muhammad Ali; some of the fight scenes alone are worth an "A" for effort. That's something that was pretty realistic about this film: the boxing matches. Assuming the filmmakers took their cue from actual footage in recreating the fights, some applause should be neccesary to compliment the fight coordinator for this film. Using cinematography, sound effects, and some great choreography, the filmmakers here have created a few very gripping fight sequences. And although most people will already know the outcomes of these fights, they are exciting in any case. It seems that with so much time to play with for the running time of this film, the director and writers would have been able to stuff more scenes from Ali's life into the movie.

But many of the scenes are too long. Long shots turn into long scenes, which, in turn, become a long movie. If the film had be cut to two hours say, the depth to which this film buried itself in Ali's life would have been acceptable. But, as an epic, this film just doesn't create the kind of grand scope needed for such a film. And really, Muhammad Ali deserves the epic treatment. Whether they were trying for the bigger-than-life approach to the biopic is unclear, because it seems that a series of mistakes have turned this film into something whose information could be found by watching any type of Ali documentary. It might seem like I'm belaboring this point, but each comment I have on the film comes back to this idea. The scenes might have not seemed so long if the film had gotten deeper into the characters of the movie. The faults of the film could possibly be traced back to a faulty script, but with four writers with their names on this picture, it's curious that none of them were able to get the whole thing right.

Something which the film could have benefited from would have been some information about Ali's childhood. As it is, this film shows the audience the most popular and widely known events in Ali's life. But what's not such common knowledge is his childhood years and what he went through growing up in Kentucky. There is but a tiny tid-bit of information related to Ali's childhood and it is by no means enough. Even if the film had only spent five minutes on the beginnings of Cassius Clay, that would still have given the audience a bit of information not so commonly known. Each time the story stepped into the personal life of Ali, the film would back off so fast from the information, that the film felt unpersonal because of its refusal to tackle the portion of Ali's life that occured behind closed doors and away from Howard Cosell's microphone.

And because the film covers so few years, barely fifteen or so, the information given to the viewer just doesn't cut it. But the shortcomings of this film do not doom it completely. The performances, the quality of the filmmaking (the cinematography and such) and the subject are a good combination of elements which allow the film to be successful, if only on a few levels. In fact, on a further note on the performances from the actors, it should be said that although this film was advertised as an "Oscar" push for Will Smith, the buzz for the part has been very much deserved. And the other notable actors in the film, namely Jon Voight's portrayl of Howard Cosell, also give engrossing performances.

There are so many good actors in this film, that that reason alone should be the reason to catch this flick, if you decide it a worthy choice to see in the theaters. Jamie Foxx (as Drew Brown), Mario Van Peebles (as Malcom X), Ron Silver (as Angelo Dundee), and Mykelti Williamson (as Don King) are but a few of the people in this film who give believable and interesting performances. The most thanks on this film should probably go to the casting directors. They put together a stunning group of actors who were able to carry the weight of poor editing and a sub-standard screenplay and turn out some fine performances.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

content 2000 - - ninth symphony films - photographs columbia pictures 2001
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