I’d Go in the Jungle and Fight a Lion With a Toothpick
I don’t really know what drew me in to watching today’s movie. I’ve never been that big of a fan of the type of movie or the subject matter, but when I saw a trailer for the movie I decided to add it to my Netflix queue. I don’t know if I’m not a fan of documentaries because I haven’t seen the right ones or if they’re just not interesting to me. Most of them seem like I’m just watching a bunch of interviews that are supposed to make me sad. I’ve also never been that big of a boxing fan because most matches are fairly slow and I just want to see people get knocked out. On the other hand, a boxing documentary might show me some good highlights, but it also might just try to make me sad. We’ll see in my review of Facing Ali, directed by Pete McCormack, and including interviews with, and footage of, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, Leon Spinks, George Chuvalo, Sir Henry Cooper, Ron Lyle, Earnie Shavers, and Ernie Terrell.
Muhammad Ali is considered by many to be the greatest boxer of all time. In this movie, his most memorable fights are relived by the people on the other side of the ring, telling the story of Ali’s life, and their own, through his rise to success, his conversion to Islam, his legal troubles surrounding the Vietnam War, his eventual decline and retirement, and then his Parkinson’s. And that’s about it.
I still don’t really get the appeal of documentaries. All this really was to me was a collection of highlights from Muhammad Ali’s fights and interviews, with a couple interviews with his former opponents talking about why he was the greatest, most of who were fairly hard to understand. I admit that I was fairly interested in the movie just because of the subject matter. Not knowing very much about boxing, I chose long ago to start calling Muhammad Ali my favorite boxer of all time, and I was very willing to argue with people about it even though I was well aware of the fact that I didn’t know what I was talking about. That being the case, I was pretty interested in watching Ali’s story from when he started boxing to somewhere around present day and his life with Parkinson’s. I liked watching the scenes from his fights that I had not seen much of before, but they were pretty brief. It makes sense as the story they were looking to tell was more about the buildup to the fight and the aftermath than the fight itself. But the retelling of his history was done well enough and was interesting to a point. Near the end, they went for a very brief jump from his fighting life into the Parkinson’s, but I didn’t get any kind of emotional impact from it. And they tied the whole thing up by asking the boxers that they had been interviewing for their stories about the last time they saw Ali, but most of them were extremely lackluster. Ken Norton’s story was about going up to Ali and joking that they should fight again, then Ali turned slowly towards him and said, “Norton.” Great story, dude. Could’ve used some dragons though.
The other part of the documentary consisted of interviews with the boxers that participated in some of Ali’s most famous fights. The problem with interviewing a bunch of older boxers is that many of them have been hit in the head so many times that they don’t speak very clearly. A lot of them had to be subtitled even though they were technically speaking English. A pretty small portion of them (like George Chuvalo and the grill master George Foreman) were much easier to understand. The stories they told had about an 80% chance of being interesting enough for me to pay attention. And then there was Leon Spinks, who was not only hard to understand, but also scary to look at. He had teeth like a chainsaw.
Facing Ali is a fine enough movie, but not one that appeals to me very much. I’m not a fan of the documentary style so I needed to rely on my limited affections for boxing to get through the movie. Ali’s life made for an interesting enough story, but the interviews were occasionally hard to understand and not interesting to listen to. Personally, I’d rather watch Ali, the Will Smith movie. But if you’re a fan of documentaries, boxing, or both, you’ll probably get a kick out of this movie. Facing Ali gets “If there don’t be no Ali, you think you’d be sitting here talking to Ron Lyle?” out of “Rumble, young man, rumble!”
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