Ali, titled after Cassius Clay's Muslim name, brings a decade of Muhammad Ali's life to the silver screen. Will Smith stars as the world-famous boxer known for prodigious athletic talent, agile wit, and a brave stance toward racial justice. He's the perfect choice to portray the pugilist—Ali's wisecracking menace helped form the template for subsequent generations of black entertainers including Smith himself.
The film traces a path from Ali's early years to the legendary bout with George Foreman in Zaire (subject of the excellent documentary When We Were Kings). Ali's public presence was so galvanizing, controversial, and inspiring that Ali keeps busy chronicling it from scene to scene.
Director Michael Mann's stylized docudrama works better here than in his recent film The Insider. Appropriately, Smith dominates every scene, although tussles with Howard Cosell (Jon Voight) and manager Bundini Brown (Jamie Foxx) figure prominently. Ali strikes a careful balance between credible biopic and fast-paced, heavyweight fun.