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DVD Review: Facing Ali

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Written by Hombre Divertido

Like all boxing matches some solid shots are landed in Facing Ali, but more often than not, this documentary swings and misses.

The story of Muhammad Ali’s career has been told and documented many times in many forms, so finding a new slant was certainly a challenge. Nonetheless, producers Derik Murry and Paul Gertz, and director Pete McCormack found a way to tell Ali’s story and the stories of other legendary boxers that was unique and exciting. Unfortunately, somewhere in the process, it appears that they got a bit off track.

The packaging for the DVD states, “Ten of the sport's finest fighters tell what it is like to battle Muhammad Ali”. It also mentions, “This brutally honest documentary recounts Ali’s incomparable journey as seen through the eyes of those who stepped through the ropes and into history.” To some extent, the footage of Ali throughout his career both in the ring and out, and the interviews with George Chuvalo, Sir Henry Cooper, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Ron Lyle, Ken Norton, Ernie Shavers, Leon Spinks, and Ernie Terrell does accomplish what the documentarians set out to do, but ultimately the goals touted were not achieved.

It is always good to leave an audience wanting more, but, it is not good for a documentary to leave so many unanswered questions. Whether it is poor interviewing or poor editing is not clear, but more insight into what it was like to be in the ring with Muhammad Ali certainly was available, and yet, not found in Facing Ali.

In the opening segment of the film, Ernie Terrell recounts a story from 1958 where he tells of Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) walking into a room and saying “I want everybody who weighs 175 pounds to stand-up. I just want to let you know who is going to win this thing here tonight; it’s gonna be me.” What room? Where was this? What “thing” was he going to win? The questions remain, and this was just a glimpse of more incomplete interviews to follow.

The discussions with the fighters are candid and entertaining, but one could easily expect that a documentary titled Facing Ali would delve deeply into what it was like to prepare for and fight the legendary fighter. The actual accounts of what it was like to be in the ring with Ali are few and far between, and there is even less time dedicated to preparation. More frustrating is the obvious questions that are not answered. What would seem like a natural course to have taken would have been to discuss rematches with Ali. The rematches with Cooper (1), Chuvalo (1), and Norton (2), are not acknowledged, and only Ali vs. Frazier I and III are chronicled here. At only 100 minutes, time certainly could have and should have been spent on what it was like to go back into the ring and face Ali again.

The bonus material primarily focuses on the making of the documentary, and it is clear both from listening to the filmmakers and viewing the final product, that a great deal of time and energy was put into making the archival footage and the film as a whole look great. The final product does indeed look amazing; it is the content that is frustratingly lacking.

The “Animated Trivia Cards” of each of the ten fighters interviewed is a nice touch.

Recommendation: Though we are led to believe that we will see “ten of the sports finest fighters tell what it is like to battle Muhammad Ali” that is not actually what we get. Yes, the majority of the fighters interviewed are engaging and entertaining, and that does make the product enjoyable, but this film could have been and should have been better.

True fans of boxing are going to enjoy the time spent with the legendary fighters interviewed. Fans of Ali can find better accounts of the champ's career. Those looking for insight into what it was like Facing Ali will be frustrated with this incomplete product.

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