When it was said that Will Smith was to play Muhammad Ali in a biopic, many people (including myself) were extremely sceptical. However the proof in the pudding is in the tasting. This is not an average biopic; itís about the sports man of the century.

Without going into too much detail about the actual events the movie concerns itself with the life of Muhammad Ali from 1964 to 1974. While still named Cassius Clay, he wins the first of the fights against reigning world champion Sonny Liston (ex-pro boxer Michael Bentt) Clay rises as a cocky young fighter, but only after heís proved that his pre-fight predictions are true. His reputation outside of the ring grows almost as fast as inside the ring.

By now Clay has other opponents, but this time outside of the ring. He is torn between his spiritual mentor Malcolm X (played by Mario Van Peebles) and Elijah Muhammad (Albert Hall) the leader of the Black Muslims group. As Malcolm X is being ostracised by the Black Muslim leaders, Clay is being groomed as their next poster boy. Clay, now having changed his name to Muhammad Ali, seems unaware of how Elijah Muhammad is using him as a pawn. Ali even entrusts his business dealing to Elijahís shady son Herbert Muhammad (Barry Shabaka Henley). As time progresses the film continues through Malcolm X's assassination to Ali's arrest for refusing to join the armed forces. Ali's life is charted through till the famous 1974 match dubbed the Rumble In The Jungle fight held in Zaire against George Foreman (Charles Shufford).

Obviously Ali's life has already been much publicised and therefore a lot of the film looks familiar as it is reconstructions of famous fight, interviews and old news reels. The finale of the film focusing on the Rumble In The Jungle has been documented before in the excellent When We Were Kings film. The film highlights some of the best performances seen in recent times. Obviously the most talked about performance will be Will Smith as Ali - I will be the first to say that my initial scepticism was totally unfounded. Smith really nails an excellent portrayal of Ali, having bulked himself up to 210 pounds (a gain of 35 pounds) for the role. His mannerisms and Ali's unique cadence and accent are spot on. Although its a brilliant performance, you still feel that Smith doesn't quite have the stage presence of the real Ali - in all honesty no one does. However Smith has gone a long way to shedding his puny Fresh Prince persona and has shown his critics that he can act. The other stand out performance is Jon Voight as broadcaster Howard Cosell - he looks just like the real Cosell and this is now the second famous personality he has played recently (The other was President Roosevelt in Pearl Harbour). Also Jamie Foxx as Drew 'Bundini' Brown and Ron SIlver as Angelo Dundee are superb. Foxx who is best known as a comedian really touches upon the character of Dundee. With lines such as "I'm a black Jew, I'm half drunk and I'm still the least confused guy here" he's the funniest character in the film.

Muhammad Ali is one of the most recognisable, most quoted, most filmed and most controversial characters in sports history so making a biopic of the man required not only the acting ability of the cast but a tenacious director, in this case Michael Mann. Mann is a perfectionist and has gleaned the best from his cast. The fight scenes are superb and really show the brutality of the sport. Ali is one of the best films of the year and should appeal to non-boxing fans too.

 SCORE 9/10