When We Were Kings Review

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A documentary of the 1974 heavyweight championship bout in Zaire between champion George Foreman and underdog challenger Muhammad Ali.


Few gave Ali a prayer against George Foreman in Zaire in October 1974, back when Foreman was a 26-year-old fighting machine, who had pulverised Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, both of whom had beaten Ali.

Defeat, though, could mean the end of everything Ali had striven for. There could be only one winner. Ali was such a natural before the camera that the biggest problem facing director Gast must have been deciding which, priceless press conference quips to omit.

In the end, he might have cut back on the footage of the music festival that ran for three days before the fight. While the concerts were organised to reinforce the cultural links between Africa and America, the clips of James Brown, BB King and The Spinners sit uncomfortably alongside the big fight which was motivated by anything but brotherly love.

Writers Norman Mailer and George Plimpton offer some astute recollections, but the most telling contribution comes from Spike Lee, who laments the fact that heroes are too transient in the modern world and that Ali's true achievement has been all but forgotten.

One of the best and most emotionally affecting documentaries ever made.