Review: Ali

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Despite any vain attempts you make to enter a film that you already know at least a little bit about with no prior expectations, inevitably there will be a preconception that will alter how the film affects you, and consequentially how much you enjoy the film. When I was going to see ALI, I was expecting an interesting (and thus, entertaining) biographical narrative of an influential athlete, who I had very little prior knowledge of. While I did get some tidbits of information that I did not previously know about Muhammad Ali, the vast majority of the time I was waiting for this uninteresting, unemotional, and horrifically un-engaging film to be over.

I must state that Will Smith's portrayal of Ali is extremely convincing, as well it should be. After all, he bulked up to Ali's exact weight at the time the film is set, and studied Ali's personality and spirituality in depth. Unfortunately, the accuracy of Smith's portrayal is seriously hampered by the emotionless quality of the film.

Ali's rise to boxing stardom is looked at from the time he initially won the world heavyweight title by defeating Sonny Liston in 1964 to the time he regained it from George Foreman in 1974. The majority of the film focuses on the tumultuous ten years that separate these two highpoints of Ali's career. Ali's refusal to serve in Vietnam and the resulting stripping of his championship is the heaviest subject matter here, and this in turn allows for the film to look at the prevalent prejudice Ali fought against.

It seems as though the turmoil that Ali struggles through could serve as a basis for an emotionally effective tribute to him. Rather, what this film accomplishes is simply a documentary-like retelling. I have never seen a film where the audience is less encouraged to get involved with the characters. While my knowledge of Ali and his legacy is sketchy to say the least, the struggles that he goes through are not even looked at in the context of the time, but only through the eyes of Ali. While this may seem like a stupid point to make (after all, it's called ALI), it is impossible to relate to him if we cannot really see the struggles he is fighting against. For example, it is a well known and documented fact that racism was very prevalent in this time, and inevitably Ali faced some to a degree. However, this prejudice is simply stated by Ali and not really developed as a societal trend at the time.

This film would have been more engaging had it simply been a "scripted documentary" rather than attempting to have a narrative pattern. The narrative pattern could work here, but the audience is completely kept out. I felt like I was having a story told at me rather than to me. Having some background information on the beliefs and the events of the country at the time would have been helpful in seeing Ali as a person rather than just the cocky boxer the media loved. This unemotional portrayal is best left to die-hard Ali fans who wish to see their hero glorified, but not explained.

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