Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sucker Punch: Ali

Biopics are usually, to coin a phrase from Will Hunting, paint by numba. It all depends on what the director and actor brings to the material. & that's the thing. Finding a right matchup. Ali stands as continuation of the pure drama based characterizations Mann used in The Insider. It's a sucker punch to the gut. & no, this sucker punch will not be thrown in slow motion with an on-the-nose soundtrack. Some familiar faces briefly pop up- Ted Levine, Bruce McGill & a new one that will be trading in his advising for taxi driving lessons.

Ali opens up with a fantastic montage that shows Mann in the zone. Intercutting Ali's early life with his present life all backed by a nightclub performance from Sam Cooke. The boxing scenes deftly reveal Ali's magnitude in the ring. The in close camera shots even keep us on our toes. For the most part however, the filmmaking is in the background while Ali's life takes center stage. Whose larger than life personality is personified by Smith's performance. To be sure, Mann's expressionism is based around a broader scope that preaches as much on prejudice than just funneling it out to look at a the portrait of a single athlete. The problem with this is, had he chose to go that route it would have gotten higher marks. It more than likely could have been his third masterpiece in a row. It's a fascinating time, story & portrait of a life. I just wish it could have been more than what I was left with after the bell sounded.

One thing that should be noted: this is all based around the Director's Cut. Some of the best scenes- the opening, the Zaire pre-fight scene- are given more weight. It's not exactly a James Cameron Director's Cut, where entire subplots are put back in. But the 8 extra minutes add to the story as they should. We'll get to another (yes, Mann loves them scissors) director's cut soon. B+

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