“What’s my name?” asks Will Smith as Mohammed Ali to an unfortunate adversary who calls him Clay in the film named after the legendary boxer. Cassius Clay is what Ali used to be called, but now it’s either call him ‘Ali’ and respect his beliefs, or be pummeled with unabated fury fueled by all the injustice he has encountered. Ali is, in this scene, much like Achilles confronting Hektor outside of Troy.
Ali, directed by Michael Mann, follows the life of the boxer Cassius Clay and his rebirth into the Islamic Mohammed Ali, set against the turbulent background of the time period that created him, and that he, in turn, left a distinguishing mark upon.
Like Joe Louis before him, Ali is fighting in a white man’s world, and hates doing it. The very thought of defeat is distasteful to Ali for it will vindicate his foes and doubters alike. Such is his fury against mediocrity he slaps around Drew Brown (played by Jamie Foxx) for being a mediocre drunk who has given up on himself.
Enough credit cannot be given to how well Ali’s and Howard Cosell’s relationship is depicted in the film. Cosell (played by Jon Voight) was an integral part of the publicity machine that eventually got Ali back into the national spotlight. Ali sure loved Cosell’s hairpiece!
This film loses focus as the writers got zealous in trying to tie the Civil Rights movement directly to Ali. It strays as far as to show the assassination of Malcom X. What does that have to do with Ali?
The writers saturated this film with Civil Rights scenes to the point that my eyeballs burst with boredom! I couldn’t even remember what movie I was seeing.
The most grotesque example of historical inaccuracy is how the “Rumble in the Jungle” shows Foreman sticking it to Ali before Ali miraculously wins with a mysterious combination. In the real fight Foreman couldn’t smell Ali, much less lay a glove on him. Ali was too quick and continually scored with stinging left jabs into Foreman’s right eye. Eventually, Foreman punched enough air to give Ali enough of a sense of Foreman’s timing to beat him senseless.
I nit-pick this scene to give Ali and Dundee’s strategy the credit it deserves. It was the greatest strategy in all of boxing history, and it allowed Ali’s David to beat Foreman’s Goliah.
Will Smith’s acting is the only thing top-notch about this film, and I give it it’s lone boxing glove out of the five it could have had.