Michael Mann don't know nothin'.
If you want the real biopic on Muhammad Ali, look no further than Muhammad Ali - Through the Eyes of the World, a fascinating new documentary that gives a deep and rich overview of the champ's life, while still imbuing it with plenty of star power.
In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd say Mann had watched this biography before he made his movie. The best scenes of Ali are ripped right from this film -- which in turn are ripped from archival videos and candid interviews with his friends (many celebrity types), family members, and journalists -- all with intimate knowledge and surprising details about The Greatest.
Not only do Billy Crystal, Richard Harris, Billy Connolly, and Rod Steiger wax poetic about their experiences as fans or friends -- relaying hilarious anecdotes about Ali's opponents and his chutzpah. A cadre of biographers and sports writers give the blow by blow about every major fight in his career, including tons of great footage from bouts with Liston, Frazier, and Foreman -- and plenty of lesser-known but equally important bouts as well.
At the same time, Mann's hero worship of the champ is not to be found here. It's an honest film, candid with Ali's flaws, easy manipulation, womanizing, and genuine confusion about life (and money). Sure, Mann touches on these issues, but director Phil Grabsky lays it all on the line, with equal time for Ali's great moments as well as his lowlights. Even more importantly, Grabsky takes us down the sad road of Ali's final years in the ring and his diagnosis with Parkinson's -- tragic, but critical to understanding what made Ali go.
And my hat's off to anyone who can seriously work LeRoy Neiman into a documentary (here discussing Ali's talents as a fellow artist). LeRoy Neiman, folks. LeRoy Neiman.
For boxing fans, this is definitely a DVD to check out. In addition to the film itself, the DVD features a number of extras, notably including some extra fight footage and a handy fight chronology that delineates what can be an extremely confusing career path. The film lacks the social commentary of a movie like When We Were Kings, but as an overall intro to The Greatest, it is altogether recommended.