Sunday, November 05, 2006

Movie Review: When We Were Kings

U.S. Release Date: 10/25/96
Running Time: 1:29
Rated: PG (Images of violence, brief nudity, some language)
Cast: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Don King, James Brown, B.B. King, Spike Lee, Norman Mailer, and George Plimpton

Director: Leon Gast
Producer: Leon Gast, Taylor Hackford & David Sonenberg
Studio: Gramercy Pictures

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When We Were Kings is a meaningful documentary that depicts the monumental bout, “The Rumble in the Jungle,” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. This historic match was held on October 30, 1974 in Zaire, Africa, and not only did it hold great significance in the history of the sport, but it also served as the basis for a compelling and recommendable documentary.

In the fall of ’74, Don King, who initially coordinated the fight, promised Ali and Foreman each a gross sum of $5 million. After continually searching for a country to come forth and forfeit the $10 million fee, Zaire finally stepped up to the place. Despite the investment being a huge blow to Zaire’s economic income, the men and women of Zaire figured that housing the fight would help bring publicity to their African country. Thus, the fight was organized.

Both contenders were eager to prove themselves and earn the title of the "Heavyweight Champion of the World." The fighters, their trainers, the press, and a series of famous African American musicians (a.k.a. “The Assembly of the American Black Men”), were all flown to Zaire in order to promote the fight. From that point on, it was the experience and ego of Ali, versus the strength and youth of Foreman, that helped to etch this sports saga into the history books forever.

Second to the bout, it was the music that united and influenced the people (fighters included). The musical performances, from James Brown’s wild, screaming, soul singing and dancing, to B.B. King’s sweat dripping while he ever-so smoothly strummed on Lucille, heavily inspired both the African people and the Americans who had traveled there. Black, white, or otherwise, the beats and tunes provided feel-good music. Specifically, the sounds of the drum provided a sense of communication, and the rhythm and blues was heartfelt in not only the land of Zaire, but also everywhere else it was televised. The energy that was transported from the dancing and the percussive elements to the people was, without a doubt, the driving force that fed the fighters and the country.

In the film, Ali is depicted from his beginnings in the boxing world at age 18 (a cocky, talkative, but yet funny and charismatic fighting machine), to his post rumble days as an influential and almost political leader. Furthermore, George Foreman is illustrated as the heavy money favorite of the bout, and not only as a fierce, angry, and powerful contender, but also as the enemy.

Throughout the picture, it is obvious that the Africans wanted Muhammad Ali to win the fight—for he was a kind and typical man who wanted to emerge victorious for all of the right reasons. Ali was a hero to the Africans; he knew in his heart that he had to beat Forman for the people, not for himself.

When We Were Kings is a wonderful documentary filled with forceful information. It is a selection of cinema that everyone should watch. Its coverage of the bout, its result, and its effects are nearly as powerful as the two spirited sparrers. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006