Muhammad Ali could be the greatest athlete of all time. Facing Ali is a documentary that interviews ten of Ali’s former opponents throughout his career. All of the retired fighters offer some brilliant insight into Ali’s career, personality and break down their memories of their individual bouts with him. The fights that are being recounted mark the pinnacle of personal achievement for these fighters and each fight is equally as significant to each fighter. The idea and execution of this documentary are exceptional and this film provides substantial entertainment for the duration.
The documentary is shot in an intelligent way. The film blends old super 8 footage of the Ali fights with interview footage in similar color schemes. The director made smart color choices to compliment the interviews and these impact the viewer on a visual level immediately. The special features go into some detail about the aesthetics and new technology that the filmmakers used to pronounce these fighters even further than the story can. The stories that these men present are visceral in and of themselves, however, when the stories are complimented by gorgeous cinematography, it catapults the film to another level. Viewers will be impressed and entertained with the accomplished filmmaking that is on display with this effort.
The height of Muhammad Ali’s professional boxing career predates my own existence. However, through this film I found myself completely engaged and drawn into these fighters without having much of any historical context of them. The documentary is not solely concerned with Ali, it’s more an examination of each of his opponents and how Ali has impacted them on a professional and personal level. Each fighter had a different relationship with Ali. However, Ali acted as the same galvanizing figure in all of their lives. It is refreshing to see a documentary use source material that has been used and overused so many times and create an innovative and inspirational story worth watching.
Facing Ali is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. There is nothing but great things to say about this visual effort. The aforementioned colors are poignant and intelligent. The colors compliment the archival footage extremely well, which facilitates an immersive visual experience. The transfer is seamless with no grain and sharp colors. Top marks for this visual effort.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound is solid. The film is punctuated by a funk/soul score that is threaded through all of the vignettes of archival footage. The score is tasteful and complimentary; it works well with the footage. Unfortunately, the dialogue can be unclear at times, which is understandable. These fighters are not the clearest speakers at times and the filmmakers service the audience with subtitles to help.
Animated Trivia Cards: This is an interesting and useless way to elaborate on the ten fighters. A separate screen pops up with all of the fighters and provides a brief bio of each of them.
Bringing the Fights to Life (8:20): A featurette that discusses some of the new technical elements that were utilized in this film. This provides some great insight into the shots and colors that are used throughout.
Facing Ali: From Book to Screen (11:16): A more typical behind the scenes featurette. It features various interviews with cast and crew.
After the Bell (8:48): Another featurette that has the director providing anecdotes for all of the fighters in the film. There are several entertaining stories. However, we’re not breaking any new ground here.
Various Lionsgate Trailers
Facing Ali transgresses the typical documentary with innovative shot selection, compelling people and creative storytelling. These criteria are essential for every strong documentary. I was thoroughly impressed and highly recommend this film to all interested parties.