“Muhammad Ali” is also greatly enriched by the enlisted voices of directors Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon (whose previous collaborations include “Jackie Robinson” and “The Central Park Five”), from New Yorker editor David Remnick noting that people forget how “incredibly divisive” Ali was to novelist Walter Mosley, who speaks of his apprehensions at seeing Ali shake up the establishment over the years. As Mosley puts it, he was “a spark, and I was standing in a field of gasoline.”
The documentary skillfully balances Ali’s biography and complicated personal life with his extraordinary gifts as a boxer, combining mind-blowing hand and foot speed for a heavyweight with an ability to take a punch that would ultimately become a handicap. , given the enormous toll that all these blows have taken. on him.
Burns and company don’t peddle Ali’s excesses and transgressions, racist slurs he hurled at Frazier and before him at Sonny Liston upon his abandonment of Malcolm X, an action he later admitted regretting.
Yet there is also the Ali who joked with reporters, generously gave money to strangers, and churned out poetry bragging about his talents, claiming to have adopted this tactic after seeing wrestler Gorgeous. George.
Ali could also be brutal in the ring, playing with Floyd Patterson and punching Ernie Terrell – who had insisted on calling him Cassius Clay – by shouting “What’s my name?” to him between punches.
The documentary is filled with such details, like the fact that Ali lost to Ken Norton after not training seriously and spent hours before the fight in bed with two women. Of his serial infidelity, former wife Khalilah Ali said: “I just let him do what he had to do.”
Even at more than seven o’clock, “Muhammad Ali” does not contain much appreciable fat, which is a testament to Ali’s personality and the imprint he has left on sport, politics and culture.
Ali’s biographer Jonathan Eig notes that losing to Frazier in 1971 humanized the fighter, in a way it had never been before. “That’s when Ali gets really popular in America,” he says.
Burns captured that humanity as well as greatness, in a way that rumbles with the breadth of Ali’s legacy and comes out on top impressively.
“Muhammad Ali” will air September 19-22 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS.