Will Smith, certainly delivering the performance of his career, plays the flamboyant and opinionated boxer Mohammad Ali in this exciting bio-drama. The film covers a decade of his life beginning with Ali’s rise to the heavyweight crown by beating reigning champion Sonny Liston. The film then follows Ali through various dealings with the government and the nation of Islam, a controversial group at times, of which he is a prominent member. Ali becomes interested in the Nation of Islam before he takes the heavyweight title from Liston. Early on, one of his closest friends and advisers is the militant Malcom X.
Director Michael Mann portrays Ali with the eye of an admiring observer, although he appears to give a fair presentation with the inclusion of flaws, particularly concerning Ali’s relationships with women. The best scenes occur when Ali is in front of news cameras, spouting off his characteristic rhymes and insults to other boxers. Smith’s background as a rap artist helps his portrayal especially comes alive at these moments.
The movie’s foul language is relatively light for an R-rated film, but it does include six obscenities, and God’s name taken in vain once. One graphic sex scene is shown with Ali and his future wife, although no nudity is revealed. Because of foul language and a graphic sex scene, we cannot recommend stepping into the ring with “Ali.”