When We Were Kings (1996)

when we were kings poster 1996 documentary muhammad ali
9.0 Overall Score

Good documentary about two charismatic fighters


Movie Info

Movie Name:  When We Were Kings

Studio:  Das Films/David Sonenberg Production/Polygram Filmed Entertainment

Genre(s):  Documentary/Sports

Release Date(s):  January 1996 (Sundance)/February 14, 1997 (US)

MPAA Rating:  PG

when we were kings muhammad ali documentary

He was the Greatest!!!

The Rumble in the Jungle is happening in the Congo on October 30, 1974.  Muhammad Ali is facing a make-or-break fight against George Foreman and everyone is gathering for the televised event.  Under Don King’s management, the fight is turning into a spectacle and the sporting world is watching…as writers and sports reporters reflect back on the fight, the monumental battle is remembered.

Directed by Leon Gast, When We Were Kings is a sports documentary.  The film was released to positive reviews and won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #998).

Growing up, Ali was still a legend and boxing when I was young.  One of my earliest memories was his appearance on Diff’rent Strokes, but I already knew who he was and that he was a fighter.  I knew of “The Rumble in the Jungle”, but I didn’t know much about the fight or the events leading up to it…it is amazing to see two big personality fighters in their prime.

when we were kings george foreman german shepherd dog

George starts on the wrong foot

Ali potentially at the end of his career in the film.  He was strong and fast, but Foreman was so big and strong that even side-by-side pictures, Foreman seems to dwarf Ali in muscle mass.  The leaner, faster (and older) Ali was up against a beast and though he was always unflappable secretly seemed worried…that is why the fight comes as such a shock since Ali modified his style to deal with the problem of Foreman’s strength.

Boxing in general is strange.  While it is a real sport and a challenge to outwit the opponent, it also is brute nature…and as seen with Don King, it is a show.  It pits two healthy men in a brutal battle which damages their minds and bodies.  Both Ali and Foreman talk about helping the community, but instead are pitted against each other…which feels also like a shame considering the powerhouse they could have become working together.

when we were kings rumble in the jungle muhammad ali vs george foreman

Sting like a bee

The movie is largely composed of interviews.  Norman Mailer and George Plimpton primarily take the lead as the people being interviewed, but Spike Lee also plays a part in the film.  Though both Foreman and Ali were alive when the film was released, neither was interviewed for the movie (which seems almost better).  The interviews are intermixed with the pageantry surrounding the massive fight which included performances by James Brown and B.B. King.

When We Were Kings is a solid documentary about two fiery competitors in a fight that was for more than a title.  The film is a great look at a sport and a great look at a time period.  The film while relatively typical in format is a great subject that sells itself.  When We Were Kings feels fresh and is still a great documentary.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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