DVD review: Black Coal, Thin Ice, directed by Diao Yinan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 November, 2014, 8:27pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 November, 2014, 8:27pm

I Am Ali
Muhammad Ali, Hana Ali, Maryum Ali
Director: Clare Lewins

Muhammed Ali's story has been told on screen many times, but in I Am Ali, director Clare Lewins tries to paint a very human picture of a man who - as he so famously put it - "shook up the world".

Lewins' film is framed around audio tapes Ali collected of various conversations held over the years with family and friends, "home movie"-style footage and interviews with the people he came into contact with and influenced.

The film works - up to a degree - simply through the sheer force of the man's personality.

There has never been another athlete able to transcend sports as easily as Ali did. He was some weird and wonderful work of nature, seemingly smaller (at the beginning at least) in stature to some of the men he was fighting, more elegant and (crucially, in terms of his legacy) more able to feed the needs of mass media as it was beginning to form in the 1960s and '70s, ever eager for the sound bite and the quick witticism. He even delivered humorous fight forecasts in his own rhyming verse.

Ali was brutal when he needed to be and brilliant in the ring as well (his epic contests with Joe Frazier and George Foreman were fights for the ages), but his refusal to serve in the Vietnam war, his embracing of Islam and his public persona ensured he was about more than just "sport".

These are the back stories which we are now all familiar with, but Lewins wants to reveal Ali in everyday mode, chatting with his children, talking about affairs seemingly trivial, and trying - as always - to connect with the people surrounding him.

That there's nothing especially new here, in terms of revelations either from Ali and his family or others, is the film's main failing. At times, the reflections on his tapes are as mundane as most of our own lives sometimes get. But there are flashes of Ali's genius, and the odd insight into the impact he made - as an athlete and person - that make the journey worthwhile.


Extras: Fighter: The Legendary Boxer, Brother: The Civil Rights Supporter, Lover: The People's Champion, Father: The Family Man, and The Music: Telling the Story featurettes