Released in 2001, Ali is a Michael Mann movie that showcases a specific window of time in the life of Muhammed Ali. The period of time that is the focus is probably what some would consider the height of Muhammed Ali’s career in terms of fame and controversy. At this point, Ali is the world heavyweight boxing champion and is in the midst of a number of conflicts: with his fans for being the champion he wants to be, with his family for his ties to the Muslim nation, with the Muslim nation over their control and abandonment issues and finally with the government that’s trying to draft him into the military. He ends up having to give up his title at one point in the midst of the conflict with the government in particular, even to the point of having his passport taken away to prevent him from fighting abroad which puts a kink in his finances.

Much of the storyline narrows in on Ali’s persona and how he managed the storm of events swirling around him. Will Smith does an excellent job in this role portraying Ali as a person that’s powerful, direct, confident, smooth and still at times vulnerable. The story continues to build as Ali fights through his opponents both in and out of the ring with the government eventually bending to public pressure and allowing him to avoid prison and go to Africa for a historic fight with George Foreman.

The Africa scenes are magnificent both with scenery and context of the storyline building to the climax. The scene with him running with the people is uplifting and Rocky-esque in it’s presentation and very well done and the Foreman fight puts you right into the ring in the heat of this epic battle. Wow.

The writing is compelling and insightful and Michael Mann’s style lends itself quite well with this strong script. I’m a big Michael Mann fan and really enjoy his sense of pacing as well as how he wants shots framed and his use of rich colors and music. It’s a long film (157 minutes) but it doesn’t feel that way thanks to all the right elements coming together.

The performances are right on the money with a tour-de-force from Will Smith as Ali, Jamie Foxx as Drew “Bundini” Brown, and Jon Voight who does an amazing job as Howard Cossell (both Smith and Voight were nominated for Oscars and for good reason). The cast is rounded out with strong performances from Mario Van Peebles, Ron Silver, Jada Pinkett Smith and Paul Rodriquez among others.

This film is definitely worth your time to check out if you have a chance.

reviewed by Sean McKnight