Wednesday, February 9, 2011

30 Days of Oscar: Day 13 - Ali

Movie: Ali
Year: 2002
Nominations: Best Actor (Will Smith), Best Supporting Actor (Jon Voight)
Wins/Snubs: Denzel Washington took home Best Actor for Training Day and Jim Broadbent won for Iris.  While I haven't seen Iris, I'm guessing Broadbent acted circles around Voight's Howard Cosell.

This was one of those movies that never piqued my interest, but with The Fighter this year, I figured it was the time, and I'd have some other boxing to compare it to.  I was still living abroad the year this came out, so I don't actually remember any big news coming out about this movie, other than Will Smith bulked up to play Muhammad Ali and Voight did a convincing Cosell impersonation.  Following Muhammad Ali's transformation from Cassius Clay, to Cassius X, and finally being renamed Muhammad Ali by the Nation of Islam.  He starts out a friend of Malcolm X, but when he's excommunicated from the Nation, they have to call it off (which may have been a good thing for his boxing career, but it's hard to say).  There's a lot of discussion about his relationship with being a Muslim - what it shows is that a lot of people were trying to use him, and while Ali had his own ideas and his own practice of religion, his status made it appealing to get him as part of your group - religion, civil rights, politics, etc.  Not mention, he was pretty free and loose with his money until it was gone.  Ironically, mentioning he was broke got him dismissed from the Nation of Islam for focusing on money and sports. 

We also see that Ali was pretty fast and loose with his relationships with women - though they seemed to always want something from him too - his first wife wanted him to not be Muslim (she converted but wouldn't follow all the rules), his second wife wanted him to be a husband and father and not political, and the movie ends just after he meets the woman who became his third wife.  Currently he's married to his fourth wife whom he's known since the beginning.  While the actresses who play his various wives (Jada Pinkett-Smith, Nona Gaye, and Michael Michele) all do a terrific job, they too seemed to be interested in pushing Ali around and being in control.

Since he's a boxer, it's kind of strange how much his life was built around following other people's direction and instruction.  He was an articulate trash-talker, spouting his skills, denigrating his opponents, often in rhyme (I'm guessing Smith's rapping skills came in handy getting that across so well), but overall, the movie paints a great boxer, but not the greatest man.  Smith does a pretty good job playing the man, and is very convincing as a boxer, and his mannerisms and voice do mimic the image I have of Ali as a younger man.  His relationship with Howard Cosell - they were frenemies, with Cosell being straight telling his story, and Ali mocking Cosell at every chance - was fun to watch, but didn't add a whole lot to the story.  Voight is nearly unrecognizable and does a good impersonation, but I don't think his acting was anything special.  Overall, the movie didn't do anything that really spoke to me or gave me any real information I didn't already have, with one exception - the supporting cast of Jaime Foxx, Jeffrey Wright, Ron Silver, and Ted Levine (he's back!).  They all did terrific jobs supporting Smith for their various scenes, particularly Jaime Foxx (his hair was fairly insane).  I can see why the movie didn't garner any other awards. The least likely to make my Oscar list so far - 3.5 of 5 stars/lambs


Jack L said...

Very interesting review,
I've been meaning to see this one for a while now but for some reason I never get around to it. I'm not the biggest fan of Will Smith so maybe that's the reason for my hesitation.

I did see the documentary When We Were Kings which is about Ali's fight against George Forman, it was amazing and I'm not even a boxing fan!

The Mad Hatter said...

This one is right in my wheelhouse as I can clearly remember the months leading up to it and how it became one of my most anticipated films (I'm a junkie for both Michael Mann and Muhammed Ali).

We all like to believe that when the time comes, that we'll stand up for our convictions - but here was a man who had it *all*...but let it all go in the name of his political and religious beliefs. He probably was the greatest of all time, and the sad thing is that we'll never know exactly how good he was, because he spent his prime years sitting at home.

I really dig how the film chose that as its focus.

Jess said...

Jack - I had no problem with the story, great concept, and the stories about the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila are just amazing every time I've seen them done.

Hatter - I guess I shouldn't be surprised this one ranks so high with you. It has a great hero, an American icon, who wasn't able to reach his full potential, and when he had everything, he still wanted something else. It wandered just a bit too much for my ADD mood, but it wasn't bad.

The Mad Hatter said...

@ Jess... What's this "American Icon" phenomenon of which you speak? We don't have those up here.