Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Ali: Use what you've got

At some angles, it's uncanny how much Will Smith looked like Muhammad Ali. Having seen a documentary about the movie (an Oprah special, even!) I knew that Smith had spent some time with Ali in preparing for the film beforehand. It was good to finally see the movie last night.

It was well-made, but didn't leave me stunned like the best movies do. Maybe it's me. I'm not a fan of sports movies, I dislike boasting - and Ali is all about boasting - and I didn't find much personally about Ali to inspire me.

But hey, movies aren't always meant to inspire. This one seemed to be trying to tell as truthfully as possible Muhammad Ali's journey from 1964 to 1976. And it told that story exceptionally well - particularly the early scenes where, without a word, we understand his frustration and disappointment with the lot of his people at that time, and how that drove him towards success.

Using what you've got
What really stood out to me was how Ali used his environment to improve his performance. If people were against him or dismissive of him, as they were at first, he used that to create determination: "I'm going to prove them wrong."

If they loved him, as nearly everyone did in his match with Foreman, he used every tiny piece of admiration and affection to spur him on. He should have lost that fight, after the massive George Foreman pounded him against the ropes, but instead he took in the admiration and belief around him, and turned it into a victory.

I'm yet to see the special features, but I hope they have something about Ali's life since the period portrayed in the movie. From being a strong, immensely capable man to being someone ill, someone who has to rely on the help of others - that's a journey that really reveals the strength or weakness within.

I read an interview with Ali some years ago, and it sounded like he'd used the environment to create victory again. Only this time it wasn't a Liston, Frazier or Foreman in the ring - it was his own failing health. And I think he's winning.


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