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  • I said several months ago that no one could play Ali except Ali. I was right. Muhammad Ali does a magnificent job playing himself in this movie. Maybe he's no actor, but in this case he accomplished what he set out to do, and he had several really effective scenes, such as when he explained why he didn't want to go to Vietnam, and the scene where Clay demanded that he no longer be called by that slave name.

    This was the third film (as opposed to documentary) that I saw on the life of the great boxer. David Ramsey did an okay job in the first one, and Will Smith tried his best but didn't quite capture the champ as only the champ could. Smith may have been the best actor out of the three, and certainly his film was the best.

    Chip McAllister made young Cassius Clay too much of a clown. He was okay, I guess, but the portrayal of the character improved dramatically at one point, and I also noticed the actor looked so much more like Clay. That's when I remembered: Ali himself was playing the character.

    Ernest Borgnine did a capable job as Ali's trainer, but this was not one of his best performances. James Earl Jones did a fine job as Malcolm X, brief as the performance was.

    I learned a few new details about Ali's life I didn't know before. I also found out that 'The Greatest Love of All' was written long before Whitney Houston made it a hit.

    The main reason for watching this movie was Ali himself. He was the greatest.
  • THE GREATEST is a lamentable attempt to chronicle the tumultuous life and career of self-proclaimed 'Greatest boxer of all-time', Muhammad Ali, between the fourteen year period of his 1960 olympic success and regaining the world title against George Foreman in 1974. This flat, boring and unrealistic mess fails in every department, it doesn't entertain the movie fan, or enlighten the boxing aficionado. Ali plays himself - and doesn't do a very good job of it. The spontaneity, charisma, energy and humour that Ali displayed in his televised real life press conferences is sadly missing from his screen performance. What we get is a subdued, below-par Ali, sometimes mumbling and slurring his lines, making hard work of Ring Lardner's lackadaisical script and the inept direction of Tom Gries. James Earl Jones, who has a very brief cameo as Malcolm X, summed up Ali's acting ability with succinct honesty: 'Given his own words, he was a great performer, but given somebody else's words there was a self-consciousness that he was unable to overcome. Ali wasn't a great craftsman in the art of acting'.

    Jones doesn't come out of this movie with much credit either. He's much too bulky and aged to convince as the dynamic Malcolm X. The only really good performance comes from Ben Johnson as the head of the syndicate who sponsor Ali after his olympic triumph. Johnson once starred in MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, in which a world heavyweight boxing champion, Primo Carnera, spars with a gorilla, the irony of which was not lost on me as I viewed this movie - given Ali's nickname for his bitter ring rival Joe Frazier.

    In between the Acting-By-Numbers sequences, clips of Ali's real fights are shown. Grainy b/w footage of Ali battering Lamar Clark, Archie Moore and Willie Besmanoff, plus a montage in colour of his comeback bouts against Buster Mathis, George Chuvalo, Jerry Quarry, Floyd Patterson, Bob Foster, Joe Bugner and Ken Norton. What I found interesting was seeing his old amateur foe and gym-mate Jimmy Ellis once again sparring with Ali just before the second Norton fight. Ellis was one of the very few boxers to beat Ali as an amateur, in 1958 at Louisville.

    There is a dedication at the end of the movie to director Tom Gries, who sadly died immediately after filming was completed. For a far better tribute to Gries talent, see the great Charlton Heston western WILL PENNY.
  • 9?¬9?est (1977) was a bio-pic that starred Muhammed Ali as himself. This film was based upon a biography that was titled the same as the movie. Who else could portray the "Greatest of All Time" other than the man himself. The movie follows Ali from when he was known as Cassius Clay, winning the boxing gold medal, winning the World's Heavyweight Boxing title from Sonny Liston, refusing to be inducted into the military because of his deep religious beliefs and so on. How far does the film go into his life? You'll have to find out when you watch THE GREATEST!!

    I felt that Ali did a good job of portraying himself. I can't see any other person being able of doing the job. ALI, the movie just didn't do the man justice. It was filled with a lot of flaws and omissions. THE GREATEST may not be the best movie around, but if you want to see the man in all of his glory then you have to watch this movie. It was a real hoot to see Ali running his famous "Louisville Lip" and it was also nice to see Ali's inner circle of friends and confidants live and up close. I enjoyed this film much more than the overrated ALI.

    Recommended for boxing fans.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In 1977 Mohammad Ali wasn't only a boxing champion, he was a personality. His confidence and poetic rants made people smile, sometimes in disbelief. So they decided to, instead of creating a documentary, allow him to star, as himself, in a film covering his lean hungry youth - when he went by the name Cassius Clay - to his rise as "the greatest boxer in the world".

    Another somewhat dependable actor plays a teenage Ali but then we switch to the real thing much too soon. When this was shot, Ali was a man who seemed mellow and tired: at the end of his game. An iconic millionaire playing a hungry climber is not only misplaced, but at times downright embarrassing. While he does have a graceful, laid-back charm, and it's fun seeing him interact with real actors like Ernest Borgnine and Robert Duvall, the film's cutting from excerpts of actual fights back to the movie-at-hand is preposterously contrived.

    This Ali's personal propaganda for his Muslim faith and the hardships against the white man, all played out like something you'd see on television but without a lean young actor, much needed to capture the intensity attempted herein.

    And the last fifteen minutes, as Ali jogs to a Bill Conti-like score before the final bout, it's obvious that without Sly Stallone's blockbuster the year before, this probably would never have been made: at least not in this fashion.
  • Ali plays himself impressively in this biography of his remarkable boxing career. The greatest commands the screen alongside such actors as Robert Duval, Ernest Borgnine and James Earl Jones. The film is not as powerful, moving or exciting as it could have been and so is a slightly disappointing dramatization of a legendary boxing story. But, of course, just to see Ali doing what he does best (entertaining out of the ring as well as in) is a must for most. So, see it.
  • Theo Robertson9 September 2003
    After seeing several disappointing biopics featuring Ali I have no fear in saying this is one of the better movies featuring the great man . The film is helped by a script that tells of young Clay`s struggle against prejudice and discrimanation without going overboard , and the script to its credit doesn`t concern itself with deep discussions of Ali`s psyche unlike a few movies I could mention , here the script just concentrates itself with hard facts . By a strange irony the film is less effective when Ali appears playing himself but that`s probably down to Ali having a bit too much fun reliving his past like turning up at Sonny Liston`s house at the dead of night to throw insults , but you can`t really blame Ali for enjoying himself , he was a remarkable man who had many remarkable moments in his life

    You probably won`t learn anything new about Ali watching this film , but you can be certain that it`s all true
  • dtucker864 September 2003
    Maybe the producers of this film thought it would be highly original to have Ali play himself. I can picture them sitting down and saying that really there is no actor who could do this man justice (this was before Will Smith was born!). However, Ali just couldn't act. Its sad watching him play himself as a young man when he's so obviously overwieght older and out of shape. Also I think that at the time this film was made, he was beginning to develop Parkinsons. His speech was already becoming slurry. The filmakers surround Ali with a professional cast of actors like James Earl Jones and Ernest Borgnine as Angelo Dundee, but Ali just wasn't right for this. Maybe this is one film that should never have been made. The lead up to the climatic Rumble in the Jungle with Foreman where he regains the title is done very well, it shows him training and running. They show quite a bit of footage from Ali's fights which is fine because they are from his best fights, the only thing is they keep playing the same damn music OVER AND OVER for them! It got kind of irritating. It was thrilling though in the end when Ali went up against the younger and stronger George Foreman and beat him in a stunning upset by using that "rope a dope" strategy. The final words of the film are of the fight commentator when he says "Foreman goes down, Muhammad Ali has done the IMPOSSIBLE! He has regained the Heavyweight Championship of the World"
  • jldmp12 June 2006
    It's not surprising how the impression from this movie is that "Ali can't act" -- but a distinction has to be made. Ali was plainly no dramatic actor; it doesn't mean he 'couldn't act'.

    Quite the opposite; Ali was a natural in the ring, on TV, in interviews; he was a gifted, graceful athlete -- sports are now all about performance, about 'acting', largely because of his influence.

    He was an intelligent, creative tactician, both physically and verbally, inside and outside the ring.

    He invented trash talk. He invented the modern notions of relentless self-promotion and self-aggrandizement; psychological warfare in sport. By the time he started affecting young movie actors, it was clear that it had all come full circle. Wesley Snipes is probably his closest scion ("White Men Can't Jump").

    But acting as himself in this hagiography, it's just no use.

    If you want a good period example of a natural, unscripted Ali experience, read his interviews with Hunter S. Thompson (in his "Great Shark Hunt" compendium).
  • The original (and nominal) director here, Tom Gries, died of a heart attack while the film was still in production; somewhat perversely, Monte Hellman (who usually had to struggle to set-up his own personal projects) seemed like the go-to-guy in similar situations – since he would be assigned similar 'doctoring' duties on AVALANCHE EXPRESS (1979), whose own viewing preceded this one! While it was most probably green-lit in the wake of the boxing sleeper hit (and surprise Oscar triumph) ROCKY (1976), earlier in the decade another film on a black champ within this particular sporting field had emerged i.e. THE GREAT WHITE HOPE (1970) – in which James Earl Jones had been Oscar-nominated for his turn as Jack Johnson and who, here, turns up briefly as yet another controversial historical figure, Malcolm X (himself the subject of a 1992 film, where he would be interpreted by Oscar contender Denzel Washington).

    Anyway, it was a rarity to have the protagonist of a biopic played by the man himself; legendary Muhammad Ali – formerly known as Cassius Clay – 'performs' adequately enough under the circumstances (though some disparagingly opined that he was unconvincing!), so much so that he would later star in the made-for-TV American Civil War epic FREEDOM ROAD (1979). For the record, his life-story would also be treated in a number of documentaries, such as a.k.a. CASSIUS CLAY (1970) and the Oscar-winning WHEN WE WERE KINGS (1996) – both of which I own but have yet to check out – as well as Michael Mann's more thorough feature ALI (2001; for which star Will Smith would also be up for a Best Actor Oscar). Incidentally, the name-change was from Clay to Ali occurred when he changed his faith from Christianity (rejecting it for being "the white man's religion 'mandating' that the black man suffer while on Earth and reap his rewards in the afterlife"!) to Muslim (the boxer's association with the revolutionary Malcolm X would be frowned upon by his promoters, while Ali's pacifist views would land him in trouble with the authorities when he refused to be drafted in the Vietnam War, whereupon he was stripped of his titles!).

    Thankfully, the script (by sports authority Ring Lardner Jr. and an uncredited Bill Gunn, perhaps best-known for his radical take on the vampire theme with GANJA & HESS {1973}) does not whitewash its subjects, depicting Ali as misogynistic (liberally seducing white women and dominating those of his own color) and brash (openly aggravating his opponents in order to throw them off-balance) and Malcolm himself as delusional. The heavyweight bouts themselves are presented briefly via stock footage, with more time allotted to the 1974 "Rumble In The Jungle" with Ali making a spectacular comeback facing George Foreman (actually exclusively dealt with in the afore-mentioned WHEN WE WERE KINGS – by which time the protagonist would have become afflicted with Parkinson's Disease, though he did turn up unannounced at the awards ceremony!) and which ends THE GREATEST itself on a high note. Such powerful moments are intermittently felt throughout, but the end result does not really prove the compelling portrayal that was clearly intended!

    In fact, among its deficiencies, one has to include the movie's soundtrack – composed of equal parts sappy songs by George Benson (notably "The Greatest Love Of All") and a pulsating score (during the ROCKY-type training sessions) that are very evocative of its era, that is to say, feel dated at this juncture! Nor is the film helped in any noticeable way by the star-studded supporting cast – highlighting Ernest Borgnine (as Ali's trainer), John Marley (his doctor), Robert Duvall (the afore-mentioned flustered promoter), Ben Johnson (as an early supporter), a thinned-down Paul Winfield (as his defence counsel) and Roger E. Mosley (as Sonny Liston, the heavyweight champ he first lost to and then triumphed over).
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The Greatest is a movie that can be best appreciated by those who are 18 and older. The movie discusses more than black and white issues. The movie depicts the fighter, Mohammad Ali as truly a unique individual in this biographical sketch of the period of between Cassius Clay returning to America from the Olympics after winning his gold medal through his transformation into Mohammad Ali and his boxing bouts with Frasier and Forman. Mohammad Ali lived true to his convictions. The movie portrays him as a man who knew what was right, knew what he wanted, and most importantly, knew how to get it. The Greatest also tells of his fight with the US Army and his refusal to be inducted into the Armed Forces. The movie requires your full attention. It is unusual that the star of the movie is the man the movie is about. How does one "act" to be oneself. The movie has a decent storyline. The movie requires your full attention and there is no time for popcorn here. Save it for after the movie when discussing the movie with friends.
  • The saddest thing about this film is that the script simply didn't have a feel for Ali's poetry or style...what results is a low-energy, plodding plot with remarkably bad switches from fight scenes to scripted bits. A good movie to break in your fast forward button from fight scene to fight scene. Also look for a forty-something Ferdie Pacheco played by a 70+ year-old actor...remarkable.
  • Despite having a rather poorly constructed story and not telling anything that fans of Muhamas Ali did not know; But it's even good, interesting, and fairly well built for a biography. Highly recommend.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    It should probably be a given that real life sports celebrities should never depict themselves in stories about their own life. Baseball star Jackie Robinson was called upon to do the same thing in a 1950 movie about his career up till then - "The Jackie Robinson Story". Quite unexpectedly, Robinson displayed a surprising lack of charisma portraying himself, no doubt due to the fact that he was probably very self conscious appearing on screen. The same can't be said of Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali of course. I don't think anyone could ever accuse him of being camera shy, but this picture simply doesn't do the former champ justice.

    I say this with the hindsight of having grown up with Clay/Ali's name in the headlines virtually non-stop from the time he became a heavyweight contender and handed Sonny Liston that stunning defeat to become World Champion on February 25th, 1964. From that point on, the colorful boxer maintained a ubiquitous presence on front pages of the nation's newspapers with his prophetic poetry and outsized ego. The story here does touch on all that, with a whirlwind overview of his troubles with the government and the matches that brought him his second world title at the 'Rumble in the Jungle' in Kinshasa, Zaire against a formidable George Foreman.

    Notably absent from this biopic, and one I can't quite understand, was the omission of legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell, who followed Ali's career closely and became a close friend. With other members of Ali's inner circle portrayed by actors like Ernest Borgnine, John Marley and Lloyd Haines, Cosell's absence stuck out like a sore thumb for this viewer.

    One thing that the picture depicted that I was never aware of was the business with the young Clay throwing away his Olympic gold medal over a racial grievance. I can't imagine how that ever got by me, and so I questioned it's accuracy while watching the picture. An internet search revealed a story about someone finding the medal in the Ohio River some fifty four years later on June 21, 2014, thereby putting to rest any concerns that the story was fabricated by the loquacious Ali as a publicity stunt when it was revealed for the first time.

    Die hard Muhammad Ali fans will probably want to tune into this story, but on the flip side, die hard fans won't learn anything new, so the novelty would be in seeing Ali portray himself as a young man on his climb to becoming 'The Greatest'. Unlikely as it may seem, the 2001 film "Ali" starring Will Smith as the legendary champ is more inspirational than this one, and comes recommended for fans of the boxer and the man.
  • I loved Ali the fighter. I was his biggest fan. With that said, Muhammad wasn't very good in this film; playing himself! The only good thing about this movie are the real films of some of Ali's greatest boxing matches. The entire cast comes across as cartoonish, stereotyped, wooden and dull. Even Ali overplays himself and plays himself very badly. Forget this film and watch Ali's real boxing matches on dvd instead.
  • I am a big fan of Muhammad Ali. I am a HUGE fan of Muhammad Ali. I WANT to like this movie. But I can't. Ali is a horrible actor, simply terrible. And playing himself was a bad idea; it's like the old saying `the man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.' Here, the man who plays himself in a biographic film of himself looks like a fool. Some of the worst scenes are the 1977 version of Ali playing the young Casius Clay. He appears rather, well, OLD for the part. Where was Will Smith when we needed him? Hiding from this dog in his mother's ovaries apparently. If you are a big fan of Ali's as I am, I recommend avoiding this film if you wish to remain a fan of his. Leave the room if you have to, box your way to the remote control, get it off your TV or leave the house yourself.

    Ali truly was the greatest. But this movie is not the greatest or even greater than any other flick I can recall. Even the legendary 'The Crawling Hand' of 'crawl back to bed and forget it' fame is better than this movie. So please, don't watch this bomb as I did; crawl back to bed and forget it.