Reviewed by: Gerald Davis
Jada Pinkett Smith
|Director||Michael Mann—“Public Enemies” (2009), “Miami Vice” (2006), “Collateral” (2004)|
|Producer||James Lassiter, Jon Peters, A Kitman Ho, Michael Mann, Paul Ardaji|
|Distributor||Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures|
As with virtually anything out of Hollywood, “Ali” does not especially cater to Christian sensibilities. After all, “Ali” presents a reverent depiction of a controversial American who rejected Christianity and rejected what Americans once considered a patriotic duty to join the military.
Ali, the man, indeed achieved legendary, heroic status because he got us to understand his actions, whether we entirely agreed or not. “Ali” the movie does the same thing. We come to understand the visceral wisdom of Ali’s anti-Vietnam War stance: “The Viet Cong never called me nigger.” We realize the heroism of someone putting all on the line for principle. We understand, as did the U.S. Supreme Court, that all religions have the same right to Conscientious Objector status.
To fully reveal the man beneath the loud-mouthed swagger, the 2½ hour movie opens with a montage firmly placing Ali in the context of the racially charged mid-1960s. In so doing, “Ali” places the audience into the shoes of black Americans who were then making initial steps toward cultural self-determination from a past of denigration and subjugation.
Ali, along with many among us, made some missteps during this time, chief among them the infatuation with the Nation of Islam, leaping from the lie that Jesus was blond and blue-eyed to the lie that the white man is the Devil. The audience sees his subsequent disillusionment with the Nation’s falsity and manipulation.
As a black American who remembers those times vividly, I was deeply gratified that “Ali” works on the level of making Ali a metaphor for us all.
And it works on the level of being a fantastic fight film, richly rewarding moviegoers seeking true-to-life realism. Repeatedly, scenes flash by that seem exact re-creations of familiar photos and film. For the fight fan, the pugilistic depictions are as stunning in their accuracy as those in the “Rocky” series were embarrassing in their movieish choreography.
This is “relatively” clean for an R-rated movie. The rating comes for its boxing violence and language. God’s names are not used in vain, but there is use of “h*ll” (5) and d*mn (3). Vulgar language includes mother-f***** (3), f-word (3), porking (1), s-word (1), a** (5) and son of a b*tch (1). There are some romantic and sexual scenes, with kissing, sexual touching, and simulated sexual motion.
As for acting, there can be no exaggeration of Will Smith’s triumph in this role. Just as he beefed up from 185 pounds to 220, he has now developed from being a scrawny little clown as “Fresh Prince” to a true acting heavyweight as Muhammad Ali. Those of us familiar with Ali don’t have to sit there pretending Will Smith is Ali, even though his face doesn’t resemble the champ’s at all. Will Smith IS Ali.
Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. In 1964, he converted to Islam and changed his name. Ali was initially part of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam (black separatists). Later he followed Sunni Islam, practicing Sufism.
Ali said that he changed his name because “Clay was a white name,” while “Muhammad” and “Ali” were not. Apparently his understanding of the historical facts was poor. In reality, Muslim sources say that Muhammad was quite white, and that both he and his son-in-law Ali were active slave owners and traders—and owned black slaves who Muhammad considered far beneath Arab slaves. Islam has a 1400 year history of active slavery and slave trading, including slavery of millions of black women and children—frequently used as sex slaves.
In a further irony, Muhammad Ali’s birth name was actually in honor of the well-educated 19th century Kentucky ABOLITIONIST Cassius Marcellus Clay who hated slavery, repeatedly risked his life in fighting against it, actively promoted racial equality, and who helped convince Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.