Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman, 'Ali' (2001)
Michael Mann's underrated biopic captures Muhammad Ali (Will Smith) at a time of great personal and political transformation, as he embraces Islam, faces consequences for refusing to be drafted for the Vietnam War, suffers the first loss of his career to Joe Frazier, and travels to Africa for a legendary showdown against George Foreman — the "Rumble in the Jungle." In typical Mann style, Ali and Foreman enter into a titanic, larger-than-life battle in the ring, each seeming a little bit larger than themselves, as if they understood they were players in sports history. When Ali takes back the heavyweight title, it's a moment much bigger than boxing.
Pretend boxing skills: Smith seemed like a stretch to play Ali, but he spent two years building up his comparatively slender frame and immersing himself in all aspects of the fighter's life. He also scrupulously recreates the "rope-a-dope" tactics that gave Ali the edge over an exhausted Foreman. That meticulousness pays off everywhere in the film, including the choreography inside the ring. 10
Style: Mann is one of the best directors working today. Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity) is one of the best cinematographers ever. They work well together — and this fight scene demonstrates their attention to detail, nuance and knack for capturing a sense of immediacy in the ring. 10
Stakes: Just on a sporting level, Ali's attempt to wrest the heavyweight crown from a seemingly unbeatable opponent raises the tension plenty. But in tying the bout to Ali's identity and consciousness as a man, the film suggests the "Rumble" as the key event of his life. 10
Overall rating: 10