Considered by many to be the greatest sportsman of all time and without doubt the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali fought many struggles in his lifetime. Born in 1942 and growing up in a time when coloured people were considered second class citizens - he went on to become the most written about sportsman in history. He is not only known for his sporting prowess however, his political views are well documented as are his religious beliefs. Perhaps maintaining a higher status within his country of birth, there is no disputing the impact he has had on the rest of the world.
After winning the Gold medal at the 1960 Olympics, prior to turning professional, he returned home to find he would be refused service at a local diner due to the colour of his skin. Equal rights played a big part in his life, encouraged no doubt by his close friendship with Malcolm X, but primarily through his own treatment by the people in power. He was also a renowned womaniser and now lives happily with his fourth wife, fathering nine children along the way. His most recent claim to fame was the lighting of the flame at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. His obvious battle with Parkinsonís Disease was there for the world to see, but the world felt nothing but pride and admiration, sharing in this historical moment.
Boxing fans and historians alike have nothing but respect for this man. The way in which he stood up for what he believed in, while winning the hearts of the worldís public, will always maintain him as one of historyís best. Many held a dislike for him due to his willingness to express his views and his undeniable belief in his own ability, but who can deny that ability?
Now on to the film.
Ali is a depiction of part of this sporting legendís life, ten years in fact, from 1964 to 1974. The assumption is made by the filmmakers that people seeing this movie will know who the lead character is, and letís face it, who doesnít? So without the history of how he became a great fighter, the film begins with the build up to his first ever attempt to win the World Heavyweight title, facing Sonny Liston.
|" Your hands canít hit what your eyes canít see. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!"|
Many aspects of his life are covered in this ten year span, giving a great insight behind the scenes. His adoption of the Muslim faith is covered, along with his court case, which saw his licence revoked for comments he made on the Vietnam War. He was continuously persecuted for his beliefs, but he had the strength to maintain them throughout. The whole film builds up to his ultimate fight against George Foreman in Kishasa, Zaire, promoted as the Rumble In The Jungle. This was the fight that he had to win at the ripe old age of 32, to prove that he truly was "the greatest".
The relationship with sports journalist Howard Cosell (Jon Voight) is magical. The exchange of banter between the two is filled with respect and humour. His at times rocky relationship with Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles) and even more so Don King (Mykelti Williamson) are also covered very well. His friendship with singer Sam Cooke is also touched on, as is his aproachability to his adoring public.
This film is beautifully directed by Michael Mann (The Insider), capturing his vision for this brief part of Aliís life and using some unusual techniques to portray that vision to the filmgoer. Will Smith is by far the stand out attraction of this film, playing Ali to perfection and fully deserving his Oscar nomination. After knocking back the role several times over a five-year period, totally out of fear that he could not do it justice, he finally succumbed and accepted. He trained for a year for the role, actually becoming a boxer and obtained on set guidance from Ali himself. His real life wife Jada also appears in the film as Aliís first wife Sonji.
The whole cast are extremely well suited in their respective roles. The behind the scenes documentary testifies that the portrayals are perfect to the original characters. This is something I canít attest to myself, apart from Will Smith in the lead role, but I would have to state that whether they resemble their real life characters or not, the acting is superb.
Although you donít need to be a boxing fan to enjoy this film, it is the fight scenes that dominate. From the first bout shown with Sonny Liston to clashes with Smokiní Joe Frazier, and ultimately George Foreman, the fights are filmed with great skill, capturing the feel as well as the action. Whether you like boxing or not, there is no disputing that Ali is possibly the most famous man in the world, holding a place in history that is rarely rivalled. This film takes a brief look at a part of that life and does it with great care, creating a very inspirational film.
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and 16x9 enhanced for widescreens, this looks wonderful. The picture is sharp at all times and colours are very true. Detail is excellent, especially on darker scenes and close ups, and blacks are generally very deep. Colours used are not of the vibrant variety due to the style of film and this really adds to the feel. Taking into account the use of a greyer palette, this could quite easily have been filmed in black and white and still had a similar impact. There are very minimal signs of film artefacts and there are only occasional instances of aliasing, which are never a problem. There are the odd occurrences of grain, but these are more intentional than anything, placing the viewer in the era.
Subtitles supplied are English for the hearing impaired and are true to what is occurring on screen. These were called into action at times due to hard to follow accents and occasional mumbling. The layer change occurs at 75:40 and is not intrusive. Overall this is a wonderful transfer that reeks of quality and one that could easily be used to demonstrate the value of DVD.
Audio supplied is a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Surround and both are terrific.
The DD 5.1 really adds to the vision, with wonderful separation. Dialogue is kept primarily across the front, with the rears used extremely well for directional effects but, more importantly, to build the scenes through the wonderful music score. The use of all the surrounds is superb, giving the viewer the feeling that they are right there in the midst of the action. This is demonstrated best during the fight scenes, where the audio accompanies the visual aspect to really have an impact. You feel as if you are in the ring and can feel every punch, sensing the crowd around you. Dialogue was a little hard to hear on a couple of occasions, but this was more due to accents used and the fact that the actors are talking with mouthguards in their mouths. Apart from that, it is excellent. Audio synch is never a problem and the subwoofer gets an aggressive workout throughout, rumbling with every punch.
The DTS track is everything the DD 5.1 is only better. The sound is a lot fuller and separation is terrific, giving a very deep sound throughout. The whole sound is a great degree louder also and the dialogue is even clearer. Both tracks are great, but the track of choice would have to be the DTS. However, for those without this capability, donít be put off, as the DD 5.1 is terrific in itís own right.