This documentary from director Bill Siegel has depth rarely seen as he goes beyond Ali's legal issues and delves into the trials of life with a flow as smooth as Ali had in the ring.
Currently in limited release, The Trials of Muhammad Ali draws the audience in with intense opening segments featuring David Susskind; the brother of Muhammad, Rahaman; and Louis Farrakhan, and holds on like many of the champs opponents did. Following the life of Ali primarily from his Olympic victory to his return to the ring following his exoneration for refusing military service, at 94 minutes this documentary does as it should, giving the audience more than it expects, while leaving it wanting more.
For the most part, the desire for more is a good thing, but, in a few instances, it is reflective of incomplete storytelling. There is a significant hole found between the return to the ring and the current status of Ali. The end of a career and the onset of age is a significant trial in the life of any athlete and one that easily could have been examined here. Nonetheless, the story we are told, is one of passion, intensity, dedication, and love.
Ultimately, because Muhammad Ali was more than an athlete and more than a minister, this is a story of an icon and a hero to many. The story of a man, hated and loved, whose life played out on a stage larger than most can imagine, yet a stage that Ali seemed to belong on. Though his trials may not have been different than many have faced, the combination of talent and subsequent fame, the period in which he lived, the choices he made, his charisma, and those elements out of his control, make his story one that is difficult to tell and extremely enjoyable to watch.
With few exceptions, Siegel hits his points effectively and does not dwell too long on any one topic or individual contributor. One exception is the rise of the Muslim religious party in the U.S. and the events surrounding that growth and the leaders involved. Clearly an important part of that period in American history, Siegel fails to provide enough material relating to the impact on Ali and his reaction.
Recommendation: A must-see for fans of Ali and those who know little of one of the greatest athletes, entertainers, and intriguing public figures of the 20th century and beyond. More than a documentary; simply an entertaining and informative film.
The Trials of Muhammad Ali website lists playdates where it is showing across the United States.