Combustible Celluloid
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With: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight, Mario Van Peebles, Ron Silver, Jeffrey Wright, Mykelti Williamson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Joe Morton
Written by: Gregory Allen Howard, Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson, Eric Roth, Michael Mann
Directed by: Michael Mann
MPAA Rating: R for some language and brief violence
Running Time: 157
Date: 12/25/2001

Ali (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Float Like a Butterfly

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Michael Mann's Ali reveals most of the usual strengths and weaknesses of big-budget biopics. At the center, Will Smith gives a strong performance as the all-time great boxer, Muhammed Ali, and Jon Voight matches him with a jaw-dropping performance as sportscaster Howard Cosell. The film manages to capture the essence of the man himself, but the surrounding elements of his life -- even at nearly three hours -- feel sadly incomplete.

Not even a ten-hour film could properly do justice to a man's life, especially one as complicated as Ali's. Mann pays homage to Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles) during the first third by showing Ali's friendship with him, but steers way off course to finish the Malcolm X story, before moving on with Ali's.

And the final third -- the "rumble in the jungle" -- was better told by the documentary When We Were Kings. But Mann keeps things well-oiled with his lack of sentiment, Smith provides the movie with a soul, and the friendship between Ali and Cosell give the movie its heart. (Smith and Voight both received Oscar nominations.)

The theatrical release ran 157 minutes, but Mann released a director's cut with a running time of 165 minutes.

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