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Columbia Pictures
Official Site
Director: Michael Mann
Producers: Paul Ardaji, A. Kitman Ho, James Lassiter, Jon Peters, Michael Mann
Written by: Stephen J. Rivele & Christopher Wilkinson, Eric Roth & Michael Mann
Cast: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Ron Silver, Jon Voight, Mario Van Peebles, Jada Pinkett Smith
Rating: out of 5

Every year, there’s always one movie that never quite grabs you emotionally, but is still technically perfect. A few years ago, it was L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. After that, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. You know what I’m talking about. It gets tons of acclaim and all the award nominations it can handle, even though it never connects with the audience the way your TITANICs or your SHAKESPEARE IN LOVEs do. This year, ALI is that film. While I did like it quite a lot, I can’t say that it was the most fun I’ve ever had in a movie theater, nor can I say that I’ll ever see it again. It’s just not the kind of movie that you watch over and over. In fact, ALI is very much like a finely made chair or table—expertly crafted sure, but with little else to offer anyone.

That being said, what a fine looking chair or table it is. Michael Mann is truly one of the best directors we’ve got working for us these days. The style he brings to the screen is truly unique. In fact, the sequences of the film shot on video looked so good, I almost wished the entire thing had been done in that format. Now, the pacing of the film is what some of your more hyperactive types would call “slow” or “lagging,” but not I. No, I call it… well, slow and lagging, but in a good way. Many of the shots in ALI seem to linger a few beats too long, creating a tenuous balance between artistic style and forgetting to turn off the camera. But it all comes together in the end, creating a film of such technical grace, you almost forget that you already know everything in the plot.

The time span of the film takes us from Cassius Clay’s re-birth into Muslim-hood as Muhammed Ali all the way to his infamous bout with George Foreman, also known as The Rumble in the Jungle. This, as any fan will tell you, is a pretty well documented time in the champ’s life. So really, there aren’t any surprises here. I took my father to see this with me (he being president of the Ali: The Greatest Fan Club) and he was neither shocked nor surprised by any of the info presented in the movie. Which is not to say that the movie is boring. On the contrary, the movie is quite exciting, but the reason for that has more to do with a trio of fine performances than it does with amazing plot twists.

Let’s start at the top… Will Smith as Muhammed Ali. A lot of people I know pooh-poohed the idea of Smith taking on the role simply because “he was in that piece of crap WILD, WILD WEST.” Granted, that movie was bad like murder is bad, but you don’t see people sneering at Kevin Klein or Kenneth Brannagh in the same manner. And might I remind you, Will Smith was just playing himself in that movie. Brannagh gave what was not only the worst performance of his career, but also what will forever be known as one of the worst performances of all time in the history of cinema. So lay of the Fresh Prince, ’kay? As it happens, Will Smith is terrific in ALI. In fact, about halfway through the film, I stopped thinking of him as “Will Smith, Actor” and began to just see the brash young fighter that we all know and love. As far as becoming a role, I would equate Smith’s performance to that of Jim Carrey’s in MAN ON THE MOON. As Carrey was Kauffman, so goes Smith as Ali.

Moving on, let’s discuss Jon Voight for a minute. Now as a general rule, I don’t care for Mr. Voight. He’s always struck me as an actor who makes movies solely to pay his electric bill and nothing more. In the last 10 years or so, his most notable performance was that of the almost offensively Spanish-accented villain in ANACONDA. Not what you’d call an A-list role. But here, he gives a moving, if not brief, turn as Howard Cosell that I guarantee will be mentioned come Oscar time.

And speaking of which, I hereby officially nominate Jamie Foxx for the aforementioned award. Who the hell knew Jamie Foxx could actually act? If I’m not mistaken, wasn’t he the lead character in one of The WB’s crap line-up of sitcoms? How he got from there to ALI by way of a fine role in ANY GIVEN SUNDAY I’ll never know. But his Bundini Brown is a sad, almost tragic portrait of addiction and pain, rivaling some of the best out there right now. If we can keep him out of movies like BOOTY CALL, we should have a fine actor on our hands.

Really, it all comes down to style and performance. ALI has got both in spades and I honestly can’t imagine anyone different in front of or behind the camera. While not a moving picture by any means, it is certainly one made at the highest level of skill and for that, I declare it one of the finest films of the season.

—Clint Davis

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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