Reviewed by Chris Eberle
The story of Muhammad Ali is told not through fight footage and newsreels, but intimate interviews with his closest friends, associates and family. Seen in this touching film are personal accounts from children Maryum, Hana, Muhammad Jr.; brother Rahaman; ex-wife Veronica Porche; trainer Angelo Dundee and many others who were an integral part of his life and career.
Also seen are people whose lives he touched like George Foreman, Mike Tyson, Gene Kilroy, Jim Brown, singer Tom Jones and many others. This is more about Ali the man rather than Ali the boxer. Through at-home footage and never-before-heard audio recordings of telephone conversations with family, we get a unique perspective on someone who could be called the most famous man in American history. Ask nearly anyone, of any age, to name a boxer and they are likely to say “Muhammad Ali”.
- Universal Studios
- 2014, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 52 mins
- 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio
- Starring: Muhammad Ali
- Directed by Clare Lewins
- Violence: No
- Sex: No
- Language: No
If you’re looking for a detailed account of Muhammad Ali’s boxing career or a narrated story of his life, this is not the documentary for you. While boxing is certainly an integral part of I Am Ali, it’s much more a look at who Ali was, not what he did. Filmmaker Clare Lewins tells the tale through the eye of close friends and family members; all of whom speak of him in the most positive light. Certainly he wasn’t perfect and his controversial activities are detailed too, but this is one of the most personal and touching accounts I’ve ever seen.
A good amount of time is spent talking about his refusal to go to Vietnam and his conversion to Islam. There is lots of archival video and audio footage where he lays down his reasons in a very logical and well-thought-out way. And who knew he was a motivational speaker? The clip of him delivering a speech to Harvard students is quite extraordinary. When the story turns to his family, we get to hear very touching recordings of phone conversations between him and his children. Ali made these tapes for them hoping to help them remember where they came from and how they grew up.
I’m a fan of documentaries in general but I Am Ali takes it up a notch in my book. If you’re even a casual fan of boxing, or history; or you just like to learn about famous people, I highly recommend this film. I’ll be adding it my own library.
There are many different film elements in use here, some of which have degraded significantly. That being said, the interviews look stunning. Color, contrast and clarity are all at reference level. Archival footage is restored to a high standard of cleanliness. I don’t think it could possible look better.
The audio quality is equally superb with beautifully performed and recorded music using guitar and occasionally, stage band instruments. In fact the music sounds like a high-quality CD on its own. Dialog is perfectly mixed and balanced. I’m not sure a 5.1 sound track was really necessary but having music in the mains and voices in the center is preferable to a simpler two-channel track.
This is the only flaw (and it is a small one) in this release. Basically you get about 20 minutes of extra interview footage at a lower video quality; and a single short feature about the music production. I would have loved some extra fight or newsreel footage but it was sadly absent.