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Ali

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rating: R (Some language and brief violence)

Running Time: 157 minutes

Starring: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight, Mario Van Peebles, Ron Silver, Jeffrey Wright, Mykelti Williamson

Screenplay by: Stephen J. Rivele & Christopher Wilkinson and Eric Roth & Michael Mann
Story by: Gregory Allen Howard

Directed by: Michael Mann

 

Studio: Columbia/Tri-Star

Retail Price: $27.95

Features: Theatrical railers

Specs: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (28 Scenes)

Released: April 30th, 2002

 

 

One of 2001's biggest and most high profile projects, "Ali" opened last Christmas in hopes to dominate the box office with its buzzworthy performances, giant budget (well over 100 million) and a ride of hype on it. However, after much anticipation, the film opened. It wasn't exactly the hit that Sony was hoping for. It started out strong, but lost momentum quite fast. It didn't bomb completely, but it failed to make back its original budget. Arguably worse, the film was poorly received by many. That happens a lot when you hear so many good things, only to be let down. We all know that. I missed "Ali" in theaters and went in with some lowered expectations, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. "Ali" is not a perfect film, but I think it's a superbly underrated biography.

The story you ask? Well, it's the story of Ali's life. But not the whole thing. Hell no. His famous fights, his name change, his religious faith, his political nature... basically, all the major points of his life that made Ali who he was. It seems to me that a lot of criticisms of "Ali" stem from the story arc. People felt that the story jumped around too much (it really only covers a few years of his life), it lacked a cohesive nature, it was not even and that it exaggerated what "really" did happen to Muhammad Ali. Yes, more people focused on how "A Beautiful Mind" lacked key parts of John Nash's life more (probably since "A Beautiful Mind" got more attention), but I wish people would stop with all their ranting. It's a movie and we all know Hollywood... how many times have they strictly stayed by the book in a biopic? Honestly, it's just the nature of Hollywood to overblow, underwrite and dramatize everything in a person's life. It's just a movie... not everything has to be true.

Yet what I think so many people were thinking this was going to be a great, entertaining movie. What I think ruined this is that they were looking for something else. Honestly, what did they want? If you know the story of Ali's life and career, then you're not going to find anything new and entirely exciting. I personally disagree with the critics and their views on the film... I find "Ali" to be a well rounded movie, and one of the better biography films I've seen in a long time. I can understand how audiences may feel awkward at how the film is presented, but you just can't cram someone's whole life into a movie. What the quartet of writers has done is simply take the most important bits of Ali's life from 1964 to 1974 and developed them into pieces. Not one thing dominates, it's all broken up. And it's all broken up so what happens to Ali is not overdone and it's not underdeveloped. You get a good sense of Ali through the series of events, and you get a good idea of the actual events. Basically, you get all that you need to know... so that you learn something and that it moves the film along. I personally found the transitions to be pretty seamless, even if it just keeps going on and on. You do know what time has passed and what has happened, which is truly important in all this. Though I must admit the film somewhat dwindled for me toward the end. It went a little downhill for the Africa and Rumble In The Jungle Parts. Those are important parts and aren't bad, it's just that I was wondering if there was more of an impact to be found within Ali's life here. Still, it doesn't ruin anything really and is fine. Again, I really felt that Michael Mann setup "Ali" nicely and presented the story nicely, so that if you are familiar with the man or not, you get a good, rather true idea of who he was and what he did.

Speaking of Michael Mann, he really puts a good flow to this movie. I was rather intrigued throughout the movie, and I never really found it to be dull. Like I said, each piece of Ali's life is presented as it should be. The story moves and the story flows believe it or not. The film does run a bit over two hours and a half, and it really moved fast for me. The fight scenes (there are a good deal of these), are amazingly staged. They go on at a perfect length, and can be brutal. They look rather real and you'd think the actors were actually real boxers. I guess I really got into the story and what was going on. Mann creates the era well, has good shots and makes it a visually appealing as well as a tuned, driven story. While I don't think "Ali" is Mann's best work, I think he really makes the movie work and what it is. He gives us a fine biography about an important sports figures without overdoing it. Not one thing actually dominates it, but rather, Ali himself connects through it all.

Yet what brings the whole film to life is truly the acting. The ensemble here is fantastic. Of course, what gave "Ali" a lot of buzz was Will Smith's charismatic performance that earned him a load of critical acclaim and award nominations. But does anyone remember a time when everyone thought Smith was going to win the golden Oscar®, but then the film came out and wasn't well received and then it sort of lost momentum? That was all marketing bullshit if you ask me... Smith's performance as the man himself is quite electrifying, true and rather outspoken. You can tell he put the heart into this performance. Forget the training, the dialect coach and all the other pre-production stuff, Smith has crossed many barriers before (music, television, movies) and crosses many more here with his portrayal of the boxing legend. Smith's acting work has been mainly comedy, and while he has trekked into drama, "Ali" simply proves that Smith is quite a fine actor. He nails the role of Ali down perfectly. His movements, his expressions, his voice... this is a must see performance. A big bravo for Mr. Smith. But while he's the focus, the others show their true acting skills. For one thing, I was surprised that Jamie Foxx didn't get more notice. He's also quite charismatic and great here. Mario Van Peebles has a short role as slain African-American leader Malcom X that was I found to be quite believable, but Jon Voight as legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell. Voight basically pops up here and there and doesn't have too much screen time, his performance earned him a supporting actor Oscar® nod. Many people have portrayed Cosell before, but I think what makes Voight the best Cosell ever is not the glossy makeup, but how he portrays him. Besides nailing the voice, it's how he acts it out. Many actors act like their doing an imitation of good old Howard, here, Voight ditches that and just becomes him naturally instead of overdoing it. It's a bit more subdued in my opinion, and I think that's why his performance is the most impressive.

A few other notes... I enjoyed the Pieter Bourke and Lisa Gerrard score, but I found interesting was the musical pieces played during some scenes. This is supposed to be 1964 to 1974, right? Then why am I hearing hip-hop and more recent urban songs during scenes? They work, but it can be a little confusing... maybe there could have been more consistency. Otherwise, "Ali" is a wonderfully strong biography flicks that works with Mann's sharp directions, the inspiring performances and a story that's put together pretty nicely. This was an obvious passion for Mann and Smith (they gave up some of their own salary when it became overbudget), and it shows on screen. Don't let the negative reviews turn you off... if you're interested and can stand the long running time, "Ali" is one film worth checking out.

 

Columbia/Tri-Star has delivered a strong and incredibly fresh transfer for "Ali." Presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture here is a real winner. The print is incredibly clean, with only a little flaw here and there on the print. The color saturation and use in the film and transfer is great. Taking place in many environments such as Africa, the boxing ring, city streets, different homes, a lot of the scenery and colors are constantly changing and this transfer keeps up. The transfer is rather sharp and fleshtones look great, there's a natural look to this transfer that can't be denied. It can be somewhat soft, fuzzy and grainy, especially during the nighttime scenes, and there is some shimmering to be found, but those are my only real complaints that don't detract much from this lovely, bold and stylish transfer.

 

Presented in English and French Dolby Digital 5.1, "Ali" has a pretty strong mix and a good use of surrounds. It's a pretty good showpiece actually, as the surrounds here feature a superb ambiance and atmosphere that really bring you into the ten year period of Ali's life. I wasn't expecting something incredibly strong, and while not everything is, but there's a good strength to the surrounds. The punches in the boxing ring, the clicks of cameras going off, the echoes from boxing announcers, the crowd cheers and the fatal shots that kill Malcom X to name a few bring amazing life to the channels. The film also features pretty awesome use of the subwoofer. Very good mixing is to be found here. The music also sounds great through the channels. Dialogue is clear and easy to hear, while many other elements such as the music and variety of sound effects don't overpower it at all. Very nice overall. English, French and Spanish subtitles are included plus English closed captions through your television.

 

Talk about a missed opportunity! I don't know if it's because the film didn't do as well as it was supposed to or something else, but "Ali" is really lacking here. I was damn surprised, personally. I know Michael Mann isn't a big fan of extras, but I'd expect something more than trailers. Perhaps interviews with the actors, the R. Kelly music video, featurettes on shooting, how Smith trained to become on Ali... something somewhat substantial on what it took to make a film like this, because there really is a lot on the making of this as a lot people should know. I'm a bit skeptical, but I would not be surprised if "Ali" was re-released in the near future.

So yes, you have three different Theatrical Trailers. Naturally, Sony is advertising their two big summer movies: "Spider-Man" (looks great!) and "Men In Black II" (which also features Will Smith). You also have the original theatrical trailer for "Ali." They are all in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1.

 

"Ali" is one 2001's most underrated films in my opinion, as it's held up by Mann's strong directing style, phenomenal acting and a good look at a period of a boxing legend's life. This disc sports a great presentation, but the lack of supplements did disappoint me. Priced a bit higher than more standard Columbia/Tristar releases (maybe they're trying to recover costs of the film?), it's worth a rental for sure. If you're a fan of the film though, it's a pretty worthy purchase despite the lack of extras.