The nation is still getting over the passing of Muhammad Ali, arguably the politically active and fervently unique sports icon to ever exude his athletic skill and prowess in front of cameras. His forceful talents in the ring remain entirely undeniable, but it’s just as important to remember the man as a tremendous performer, a passionate speaker, and a fearless activist against everything from racism to the Vietnam War. He was once a friend and ardent follower of Malcolm X, and never let his role as a popular athlete diminish his emotions and thoughts on the nation’s vast troubles.
These are major elements in his persona and in Ali, the 2001 biopic of the genius pugilist, director Michael Mann made the triumphs and failures of his personal and social life just as vividly felt as his preternatural fighting style in the ring. In a filmography that is strewn with tales of criminals and the men and women who attempt to subvert them, Mann’s Ali remains an oddity and something like a masterwork, a brimming, hopeful, and electric look at a true individual, played with passion and physical intensity by a never-better Will Smith. Even today, some 15 years after its release, the film is a memorably intimate affair, one that alludes to reflections of both Smith and Mann in the story of an outspoken artist.
For these reasons and quite a few more, it’s great to hear that the film will be returning to theaters this weekend in a limited run that will hit a few hundred movie theaters nationwide, as THR reports. Considering how many fans of the director have jumped ship following 2004’s sensational Collateral, despite the fact that Miami Vice, Public Enemies, and Blackhat are both fantastic, it’s a perfect time to either discover or rediscover what Mann can do as an image-maker on the big screen, and more importantly, remember the inexpressible breadth of Muhammad Ali’s influence and power in a world where sports icons (or any icons, really) run away from who they are in the name of fame.