It was viewed as an ideal piece of casting. Will Smith, the charismatic star of Bad Boys and Men in Black was chosen to portray the most charismatic boxer in history, Muhammad Ali. Unfortunately, stylistic choices by the film’s director Michael Mann prevent Smith the opportunity to shine. Only once, during a press conference in which Ali accuses Don King of studying the whole "D" section of the dictionary, do we get a glimpse of both men’s appealing personalities. Elsewhere, Smith’s performance is as muted as the film’s dull colour palette.
The credit sequence of Ali training for his upcoming title shot forewarns us of what will follow. Filmed in grainy footage with a hand held camera, the scene is intercut by fragments of his life leading up to this point: relegated to the back of the bus, seeing Emmett Till’s mutilated corpse in a newspaper, meeting Bundini Brown for the first time and listening to Malcolm X. Overlaying and interrupting all of this is a splashy concert of Sam Cooke singing a medley of his hits. This continual effort to widen the film’s scope, including vignettes of Martin Luther King, Idi Amin and a protracted jog through the backstreets of Zaire, robs Ali of any momentum.
After spending an inordinate amount of time focussing on Malcolm X in the opening 40 minutes, Mann rechecks the title of this biopic and starts depicting Ali’s life. After becoming World Heavyweight Champion, the boxer’s association with The Nation of Islam attracts the attention of authorities. Shortly thereafter, Ali is drafted into the Army. Refusing to be inducted, Ali is stripped of his title, boxing license, passport and the prime years of his career. Yet his determination to fight the injustice visited upon him eventually provides an opportunity for redemption.
Complementing the film’s faux documentary look, Mann litters his movie with inaudible overlapping conversations which are at times preferable to the inconsequential dialogue that one can comprehend. Rambling on about such subjects as termites while other players contemplate more substantial matters, Ali too often appears to be a supporting character in his own story. Further muffling this depiction is a fragmented narrative and an intrusive soundtrack.
The year before this film’s release Fox produced Ali: An American Hero. Though it depicted the same period of the boxer’s life in a more conventional manner, the span of the story rendered the film equally as bland. More focused was King of the World, which limited itself to Ali’s life up to his title bout with Liston. Few biopics however could match the compressed timeline of One Night in Miami.
as Muhammad Ali
as Drew 'Bundini' Brown
as Howard Cosell
as Howard Bingham
Ali’s first fight against Joe Frazier took place at on March 8th 1971, three months before the Supreme Court handed down its decision on June 28th.
According to sportswriter Robert Lipsyte, Ali did not learn from the decision of the Supreme Court from Howard Cosell.
Though Howard Cosell did travel to Zaire to cover ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’, its postponement resulted in Cosell being back in the US when the fight actually took place.
The confrontation between Ali and his second wife regarding his affair with Veronica Porché occurred before ‘The Thrilla in in Manila’