When We Were Kings - * * *

When We Were Kings is an intriguing documentary about the 1974 heavyweight championship fight in Zaire between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Focusing primarily on Ali, it briefly recaps his early career and then it turns to cover this pivotal fight. Although he was a favorite of the fans, most in the media didn’t think he would be able to face the young, tough Foreman. Foreman, the heavyweight champion of the time wasn’t as ebulliently verbose as Ali, but he was a heavy hitter, having utterly destroyed his previous opponents. It was thought that Ali was getting too old, no longer the frisky fighter he was 10 years prior, and that he would be no match for Foreman. The coverage of the fight is very interesting, even for those who are not boxing aficionados. The movie strays a bit and loses some of its sharp focus when it begins to half-heartedly cover the James Brown/B.B. King concert that was combined with the Ali-Foreman fight. The music is good, but the documentary seems to lose its way. Everywhere else, however, the documentary is insightful and informative, whether covering African power struggles or Muhammad Ali’s politics in America. A wide variety of modern interviews help to place the film in perspective, from those who were covering the event itself (Norman Mailer and George Plimpton) to those who have been influenced by its repercussions (Spike Lee). A minor criticism: the film makes occasional reference to the two fighters as they are now as opposed to 1974, yet assumes a general familiarity with both men as they are in the present. While most who see the film today are probably familiar with the current states of the two men, future generations may not be as familiar, and the film could lose some of its impact as time goes by. In the present, however, it is a thoroughly entertaining documentary about a clash between boxing legends.

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