Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Muhammad Ali was undoubtedly one of the greatest fighters in combat sports history and even beyond that, one of the greatest figures in all of sports, period. This man is a living myth, a man who can spout the most outrageous statements and call himself ‘The Greatest of All Time’ with utmost sincerity and in all likelihood - you won’t find a single person (least of all the men he’s fought) who doubts these claims.
It’s often times difficult describe an icon as transcendent as Ali without lapsing in flowery prose about his accomplishments, because hey, even the man himself is fond of waxing lyrical about his own greatness once in a while. Many documentaries and films, such as Michael Mann’s sprawling biopic starring Will Smith, have tried, to varying degrees of success, to encapsulate the life of the warrior into one neat narrative.
The truth is that while Ali was arrogant, verbose, religious and immensely talented, he was also countless other things and meant different things to different people. Director Pete McCormack realises this and his new Ali-centric documentarywisely doesn’t attempt to frame his complicated personality broadly in terms of political prisms or his influence on public consciousness.
Instead Facing Ali narrows its focus to the few people who probably knew him the best - the men who battled him in the ring. They may not know the details of his personal life or agree with his philosophical beliefs but of all people, Ali’s opponents are the ones who truly knew what the man was made of. Most are fond of him, some still bear old grudges but all speak with reverence and respect about his skill and toughness.
This top-notch boxing documentary brings together ten of Ali’s most formidable foes to speak on how their fistic duels with the living legend profoundly changed their lives, careers and perspectives for the better. They include George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Ron Lyle, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks and Ernie Terrell. Ali left his mark on all these men, and we don’t just means the ones left on their faces with his gloves.
Facing Aliis as much an examination of Ali’s stature within the boxing community as it is a study on his fellow combatants. Some of their personal stories are compelling in their own right and provide rich material. It is a testament to McCormack’s meticulous research and his ability to put his subjects at ease that Facing Alihas unearthed gems of anecdotes that would have otherwise been relegated to nothing more than minor footnotes in boxing history.
Canadian champion George Chuvalo’s sorrowed recounting of how he lost three sons and a wife to drugs and suicide is especially harrowing. Chuvalo is an articulate man whose external insights into Ali and his own internal grief could easily fill up an entire documentary by itself. Others such as Larry Holmes and working-class British boxer Harry Cooper offer amusingly spirited opinions while Ron Lyle and Earnie Shavers each display a different side to themselves, starkly more surprising than their notorious criminal backgrounds may suggest.
Facing Alioffers discussions on everything from the tactical aspects of Ali’s epic bouts with Ken Norton and Sonny Liston to his refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam War. Such topics are frequently chronicled but have never been presented from these particularly refreshing viewpoints. Ali himself only appears in archival footage but the tender, glowing testimonials of his former adversaries speak volumes about the man’s character and impact.
About Hidzir Junaini
Hidzir Junaini is 24-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for MetroWize Asia.
Hidzir was the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.