US, 2001, 157 minutes, Colour.
Will Smith, John Voight, Jamie Foxx, Mario Van Peebles, Ron Silver, Jeffrey Wright, Mykelti Williamson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Nona Gaye, Joe Morton, Michael Michelle, Paul Rodriguez, Bruce Mc Gill, Giancarlo Esposito, Barry Shabarka Henley.
Directed by Michael Mann.
There have been several films about Cassius Clay who became Mohammad Ali. He appeared in the 1970s film, The Greatest. Of greater interest is a more recent film in which he appears only in archival footage but of which he is the centre, Muhammad A;I’s Last Fight. It is the story of his being drafted, his refusal, his arrest, his career being put in abeyance by the licensing office, the court cases, going to the Supreme Court and the judgement in his favour. With a cast including Christopher Plummer and Frank Langela as members of the Supreme Court, the film with its discussions about the issues is very interesting.
This 2001 film was directed by Michael Mann, better known for action films and television series like Miami Vice. It is a starring opportunity for Will Smith who relishes the role. There is a very strong cast of African- American actors, especially with Mario Van Peebles appearing as Malcom X. The white cast is often impressive including Ron Silver as Ali’s coach and John Voight, unrecognisably made up, as sports commentator Howard Cossell.
The film is an overview of Cassius Clay turning into Muhammad Ali and his life between the mid-60s and the mid-70s when he defeated George Frazier in Zaire in the Rumble in the Jungle.
The screenplay tends to focus on the boxing issues, the Islam issues, especially his conversion and his being ousted from the Nation of Islam by Elijah Muhammed. There are some indications of his personal life, his brash personality and banter, taunting his opponents, the impression of boasting. There is comparatively little on his personal life, marriage, relationships – though Will Smith’s wife, Jadar Pinkett Smith, does appear as one of the women in his life.
The film stands as a very interesting piece of Americana of the 1960s and 1970s.
1. The status of Muhammad Ali, audience knowledge of him, in his time and later? Attitudes towards him? His changing reputation in the United States, especially concerning the Vietnam war and conscription?
2. The film as a biopic, its impact? The work of the director, the strong cast, African- Americans?
3. The 1960s and 70s, United States society, the boxing world, champions? Politics, the committees, Martin Luther King, civil rights, protests? The Vietnam war, the draft? The courts and the Supreme Court? An interesting overview of Mohammad Ali’s career?
4. The locations, the American cities, the boxing world, bouts? The military? Africa and Zaire? The musical score? Songs of the period?
5. The performance of Will Smith, his impersonation of Ali? Mario Van Peebles and his impersonation of Malcom X? Other historical figures? John Voight as Howard Cossels?
6. The portrait of Cassius Clay, as a young boy, his brother, parents, his telling the story of the execution of the black man by wire, the effect on him? The article? His growing up, a blend of the clever and the ignorant? His patter, aggressive persona, the effect on opponents, on the public?
7. The focus on the young Cassius Clay, the scenes of training, his relationships, his wife, family, his brother? His relationships with women? The later wedding? Going to Africa, the fights?
8. Jamie Foxx, as Bundini, putting himself forward, supporting Ali over the years, his drinking, making peace with Ali?
9. Ron Silver as the coach, his devotion to Ali, perseverance, support?
10. The status of Howard Cossell at the time, sports commentator, his friendship with Ali, the television shows, the banter, his promoting Ali?
11. The portrayal of the different fights, the confrontation with Sonny Liston, weights, Clay’s banter, the carry on, the fight itself, the demands on him, the victory?
12. Malcolm X, his character, status, the Nation of Islam? The relationship with Elijah Muhammad, his philosophy? His son, Herbert, the influence on Clay? The conversion to Islam, the name of Mohammad Ali, with Elijah Muhammed, the ousting of Malcom, Malcolm’s visit to Nigeria, the invitation to Ali, Ali and the confrontation? Loyalties?
13. Elijah Muhammad expelling Ali? The gathering, the assassination of Malcom?
14. The issue of the draft, the atmosphere 1968, the American presence in Vietnam? Ali and his loud mouth, the reaction of the press? His saying no to conscription? The arrest? The drill, his refusing to step forward? The hearings, the lawyers and their support? His not being able to fight? The licence board and their decisions? Uncertainty over him?
15. The effect of the death of Malcom X? Herbert and his influence? The fights?
16. Ali in limbo, his career, the case going to the Supreme Court, at the meal, the news coming through, his victory?
17. The planning for the Rumble in the Jungle? George Frazier? Don King and his personality, the promotions, speeches, razzmatazz? With the press?
18. Politics, Africa, Zaire? The waiting, the preparation? Frasier and his injuries?
19. Intimations of Ali’s personal life, the collapse of his marriage? Children? Relationships with different women? The flirtation? Veronica, the encounter, the affair, his later marrying her, divorcing her?
20. The final bout, Ali winning? Champion of the world?
21. The succeeding years, his reputation, champion, losing, regaining the title? His place in the history of sport, boxing? His place in American history, an icon, for African- Americans? For Islam in America? His very personal, American-style serious and comic personality?