Sunday, February 27, 2005

What's my name?

I can't believe that when David Edelstein had his ongoing "biopics suck... except for these titles" dialogue a couple months ago, no one brough up Michael Mann's strange and wonderful Ali. Well, actually, I can. People find its style frustrating and elusive, impossible to digest. Which is precisely what I love about it.
I love that Mann throws out any propulsive narraitive device and instead wallows in a decade in the life and times of the Champ. It feels like the cinematic equivalent to one of those sprawling New Yorker articles-- you're not quite sure how you wound up reading nine pages of tiny print on Cuban restaurants in Manhattan, you're not even all that interested in the subject, but you're glad you did and you're glad you got every detail on what goes on in the kitchen and at the home of the chef and so on.
And Mann's style is so perfectly suited for this kind of biopic. The fluid, almost chaotic, shooting style that feels like an on-the-fly documentary until you realize how exquisitely composed the whole thing is. The early dabbling with digital cameras that captures Ali jogging in the night. The world-y Dead Can Dance score and random Moby b-sides that shouldn't work in the context, but do... and beautifully. And those actors. I'm no fan of Will Smith. At all. But I'll gladly admit that the guy is brilliant in this role. It's a showboat, but it's great. Even better are the lovely, pocket-sized roles that are everywhere: Jamie Foxx, Jeffery Wright, Jada Pinkett Smith, Ron Silver, Jon Voight (best), Nona Gaye. Mann litters the film with small, precise characters and gets the best of the best to fill them out.
I won't deny that the film is probably too long and a little flat in places. But it's also visionary and stunning. Which you can't say about Kinsey. Or Ray. Or Finding Neverland...

And on a semi-related note: when/if you're watching the Oscars tonight, please remember that it's a crock and a sham (among all the other various crocks and shams) that Collateral is not nominated for Best Cinematography.


At 10:12 AM, Blogger Joshua said...

I think Ali might not have counted under Edelstein's rather bizarre criteria for inclusion in the genre, because it doesn't make a real attempt to cover Ali's entire life (and is, therefore, not a biography) -- and that whole standard annoyed me at the time, because it seemed designed to reduce "biopic" just to the most comprehensive, and therefore bad, films. But Ali does include scenes from his youth, so maybe it does count. I don't know, because I don't care.


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