Muhammad Ali, in his day, was to boxing, what Michæl Jordan has been to basketball – a legend. In this very comprehensive British television documentary, we’re given a chronological history of the life and times of this amazing man. His story is told through rare photos and footage, along with a series of interviews with friends, his ex-wife Veronica and daughter Hana, actors like Billy Crystal, James Earl Jones, Rod Steiger, Richard Harris and Billy Connolley, trainers, boxers, journalists, historians and even the artist Leroy Neiman and the poet Maya Angelou.
We’re shown a man that came from humble beginnings in Louisville, who was victorious at the Olympics at the age of 18, and went on to have a long, successful career as a boxer. His meteoric professional rise in the ’60s & 70’s, is profiled against the backdrop of racial and political tensions that were brewing in America. This film does not shy away from showing the love-hate relationship America had with Ali. Although Ali was admired and respected for his ultra-confident showboating and bragadoccio, which he could always back up with a stunning performance in the ring, he was equally despised and reviled for becoming a member of the Nation of Islam, and his refusal to be drafted for Viet Nam. He is really portrayed as a study in controversy: a man who is described by his daughter as a “teddy bear”, who was a ferocious fighter, a man of religious and moral principle, who went though 4 marriages and numerous affairs, a man who could stun an opponent with his words and fists, who has been reduced to a trembling shadow of his former self by Parkinson’s disease.
Though the various voices and perspectives that tell the story of this complex man, one can’t help but realize that only rarely does an athlete come along, who can rise to heroic and legendary status, and truly deserves to be called “the greatest”.