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When We Were Kings, a documentary about the Muhammad Ali/George Forman heavyweight

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Introduction

When We Were Kings, a documentary about the Muhammad Ali/George Forman heavyweight "Rumble in the Jungle" boxing match, is a wonderfully nostalgic, and occasionally insightful, window into the recent past. By nature, however, it is not a motion picture of any particular depth, nor is it intended to be. Although the film touches on issues of racism and nationalism as necessary background elements, it does not delve far beneath the surface. Those who would criticize the film view this as a fault; I see it as a creative choice. When We Were Kings does not take a political or philosophical stance, and, as a result, successfully does what it sets out to do. While When We Were Kings is not a biography of Ali, it offers a great deal of insight into why the boxer was equally beloved and despised during his heyday. ...read more.

Middle

He didn't boast that he would beat Ali, but almost everyone believed he would. He was as close to invincible as a fighter could be. From the early press conferences to the aftermath, When We Were Kings chronicles the meeting of these two titans. At times, the structure is uneven, especially when the film goes on a tangent detailing the start of Don King's career, but the bulk of the material is engrossing. Since most of the footage was shot in 1974 (with the exception of "talking head" interviews with Spike Lee, Norman Mailer, and George Plimpton), watching this film is like taking a little time trip. Ali and Forman appear on-screen, but only as they did around the time of the fight. ...read more.

Conclusion

Gast, along with director Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman, Dolores Claiborne), began working to pare down hundreds of hours of film to a reasonable length. The result is a dynamic look at one of the great moments in sports history, and an examination of how and why the participants were so important. Through Gast's camera, we see the charisma of Ali and the menace of Forman, feel the energy of the crowd, and understand what an amazing fight the "Rumble in the Jungle" actually was. To use the old cliche, you don't have to be a sports fan to enjoy this motion picture. All you need is an appreciation of recent history and a desire to learn more about an event that had far more importance in the world's eyes than any other heavyweight bout in the history of boxing. ...read more.

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