Mohamed Ali is arguably the most notable boxer to have ever entered the ring and when a movie chronicling his life and boxing career comes out the hope is that it will capture at least a glimmer of the grandeur of his career. Ali (2001) took up this impossible challenge by coming at it from an interesting angle. It diverges from the traditional boxing movie framework to some degree focusing much more on Ali’s life outside of the ring. The film has a clear political message and aims to change any negative views of the man, the myth, the legend that is Mohamed Ali.
The film portrays Ali as a civil rights activist as much as a boxer. The man was a fighter both in and out of the ring. The boxing surprisingly comes second to the fight for his peoples’ rights. His relationship with Malcolm X and conversion to the Muslim religion is highlighted, and it sheds great light on who Ali really was and is. For the younger generation such as myself the film makes the issues of the past more real than something from a textbook and shows some of the lesser-known moments in Ali’s life and career. Although he had an interesting life, the picture is just like every other Hollywood biopic, it presents an altered version of the character, and is only moderately interesting.
Will Smith was definitely a miss cast for the role of Ali. Smith never once conveyed the arrogance with which Ali was so famous for. Smith delivered those lines in a half serious manner, which completely alters the character. Ali was a loose cannon and although the film attempted to capture that it failed miserably. Whether it was poor directing or just the simple fact that Smith could not meet the demands of the role is uncertain but he was outshined by several of the leading characters. Visually the film was uninventive. The fight scenes were dull, lacking tension or surprise. Throughout the duration of the film there wasn’t a single moment that felt inspired, it merely delivered the story in an economical and traditional manner.
Ali had an incredible career, but the filmic depiction of it left much to be desired. It would be refreshing to see a Hollywood biopic that varies from the monotonous constraints that have been established. As a boxing film Ali wasn’t much better, it lacked the sense of excitement we have come to expect from the genre. Ultimately it was a civil rights film with a bit of boxing sprinkled in, and sadly was not a very interesting one at that.