Unprecedented access to Muhammad Ali’s personal archive of “audio journals” as well as interviews and testimonials from his inner circle of family and friends are used to tell the legend’s life story.
The life of Muhammad Ali is one worth exploring, and with exclusive access to private audio and video recordings that most people haven’t seen, this documentary about the legendary boxer certainly had the potential to explore him in a new way. Instead, I Am Ali takes this footage and pieces it together to tell a story most people have already heard.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment the film provides comes from what the title suggests: that we’ll hear about Ali from Ali. While he’s present via the archival footage, he’s not around in any capacity through new interview footage. Awareness of Ali’s failing health has been known for three decades at this point, but in the film, it’s just something that’s rarely alluded to, and even then just in passing.
Instead, the modern-day interviews come courtesy of family members, friends, and others who worked with Ali during his career. These interviews are broken up into different segments of the film, rarely overlapping over multiple sections. Rather than creating a strong, connected story, it makes various parts of his life feel separated.
Some segments are more interesting than others. Hearing George Foreman discuss the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” fight may not pack much of a punch, but hearing about Ali’s photo shoot for Esquire that recreated “The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian” provides intriguing insight into the famous cover.
The biggest problem I see with the film, though, is its insistence on focusing on Ali as a father and husband. While I don’t doubt that Ali was a good father to his children, his multiple marriages and affairs with other women are no secret. There’s little discussion of that here, though; instead, the film goes to interviews with a few of Ali’s children who participated in the creation of the film, who obviously prefer to focus on the positive. It may make for a more palatable film, but it’s an infinitely less interesting one. Ali’s life was certainly vivid enough to warrant a fascinating documentary, possibly even a series of them. I Am Ali, though, is not that documentary.