I Am Ali Blu-ray Review
He has been called the most recognizable man on the planet. It was said at the height of his popularity that there wasn’t a country in the world that Muhammad Ali couldn’t visit where someone wouldn’t know who he was. Such was, and is, the popularity of the man they called “The Greatest.”
Told through in-depth interviews and recorded phone messages from his past (Ali is told telling his young daughter, Maryum, that, like he, they will one day be a part of history), I AM ALI is an outstanding look into the man, they myth and everything in-between. The film begins with a phone call from the 37 year old Ali to Maryum in November 1979, telling her he’s considering getting back into the ring. She is upset to hear this, as any 11 year old child would be, knowing that your father’s job is getting punched in the face. He tries to reason with her, explaining that no man has ever won the Heavyweight Championship of the World four separate times. It would be another two years before Ali stepped into the ring for a final time, losing a close but unanimous decision to Trevor Berbick, marking only the fifth time in his career that Ali lost a boxing match. Sadly, unlike Ali, Berbick was not meant for greatness. After a couple of lackluster bouts he became best known for a street fight with former champ Larry Holmes and was beaten to death with a crowbar in Kingston, Jamaica in 2006.
The film looks at Ali as a young boy, when he was known as Cassius Clay from Louisville, Kentucky. The son of Cassius Clay Sr and Odessa “Mama Bird” Grady, young Clay and his brother, Rudy (who now is known as Rahman Ali), had a very strong upbringing. When they’re bicycles are stolen they speak to a local policeman who encourages them to join his boxing club. From there it’s on to the Golden Gloves championships and the 1960 Olympics, where Cassius wins the Gold Medal in the Light-Heavyweight division. Rudy would also box, ending up with a 14-3 record over eight years.
What I really enjoyed about the film was that it helped show the strength and conviction Ali had in converting to the Muslim religion. Many people at the time felt he was just a draft dodger, using his “religion” to get out of going to Vietnam. But Ali was firm in his beliefs, even having his title stripped from him for refusing to enter military service.
I AM ALI is packed with great interviews, from his brother Rahman to his trainer, Angelo Dundee, to other boxers, including former champs George Foreman and Mike Tyson. His three epic battles with Joe Frazier are highlighted with an interview with Frazier’s son, Marvis. Tyson speaks reverently of meeting Ali when he was a young man in reform school and how that meeting influenced his life. Several of Ali’s children, including daughters Maryum and Hanah and son Muhammad, Jr are interviewed as well. The girls dote on their dad while the young man admits that it was hard in school when your pop is the Heavyweight Champ! Surprisingly missing is daughter Laila Ali, who has followed her father into the ring as a female boxer. The kids obviously love their dad but they also realize that he was not an angel. They comment on the children Ali fathered out of wedlock (all told he has 9 children) but note that their father took care of them and that they would often play together. In discussing the legacy of the boxer it is Ali himself who says it best (in an old sound clip – due to Ali’s health he is not interviewed for this film) when he proclaims himself to be the Concorde while all other fighters were merely Jets.
Video: Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the video quality is surprisingly good, consider much of the background source material is three decades old or older.
Audio: Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the sound is clean and sharp. Even the phone calls from years past have a clear tone to them. The French/Spanish/German/Portuguese soundtrack is in DTS 5.1. There are also subtitles available in twelve additional languages.
Sadly the Extras were disappointing on a disc where I really wanted to know more about the subject. There are five short featurettes, each one dealing with a part of Ali’s life with interviews from those already featured in the film.
Fighter: The Legendary Boxer (3:13), Brother: The Civil Rights Supporter (4:21), Lover: The People’s Champion (4:33), Father: The Family Man (5:07), The Music: Telling the Story (4:19)