Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight

Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight


Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

Stephen Frears, as you might expect, turns in a well-crafted account of the 1970 Supreme Court hearings about Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam War.

It tantalises with behind-the-scenes revelations of the inner workings of the legal teams and the justices who eventually vindicate the boxer’s position.

It has the taut feel of such courtroom and political dramas as 12 Angry Mean and Advise And Consent as we follow the debates and political and legal manoeuvrings.

When the boxer won the heavyweight crown in 1967 as the young Cassius Clay, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, embraced Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam and declared himself a conscientious objector on religious grounds to serving in the armed forces.

He was sentenced to five years in prison for refusing to report for duty but it took almost as long for his case to work its way in to the Supreme Court.

Frears is wonderfully well served by some veteran actors at the top of their game, including Frank Langella as Chief Justice Warren Burger (a Nixon appointee) and Christopher Plummer as John Harlan, who strengthens his resolve after his new clerk Kevin Connolly (Benjamin Walker) persuasively puts the issues on the line in ways his mentor had not considered.

How Harlan manages to bring his colleagues around to his way of thinking provides the real drama of the piece. Made for HBO, the film demonstrates the high quality of some American television, a point made over and over again by various participants at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Reviewed on: 26 May 2013
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The story of Muhammed Ali's fight with the US government after he refused to participate in the Vietnam War.

Director: Stephen Frears

Writer: Shawn Slovo

Starring: Christopher Plummer, Danny Glover, Frank Langella, Bob Balaban

Year: 2013

Country: US


Cannes 2013

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