73-year old director and screenwriter Michael Mann knows a thing or two about gravitating figures in America. The man behind Heat, Collateral, The Insider, Manhunter, Miami Vice and The Last of the Mohicans is now on the verge of releasing a fresh cut from his 2001 picture Ali, a movie that appears to have more relevance today than when it debuted 16 years prior.
Following the former heavyweight champion of the world's passing on June 4, 2016, many see the courage and hope the boxer gave to the world as a lasting legacy that will never be surpassed. Starring Will Smith in the leading role, Mann sat down with Rolling Stone to talk about his standing in the world and what his stance against the Vietnam War means in 2017.
Years Outside The Ring Were Lost Moments For Mann
Ali's ban and isolation from the sport he conquered due to a protest against serving in the war would be the moment that transcended boxing. While Michael Mann does not berate his own work, he says those years in prison should have taken more of the spotlight to showcase the struggle he experienced.
"I wasn't satisfied with how I felt at the end of the film – which is to say, the story that was being told wasn't complete," the director told Rolling Stone. "It needed to be reorganized, or re-authored, in a way. If all drama is conflict – and I believe it is – then I needed to make more it more tangible that lots of adversarial elements had arraigned against Ali, and that they were all connected. Suddenly, what becomes more poignant is the sense of the years Ali lost, which would have been the best years of his career as a boxer."
Some small adjustments will make a ton of difference for the filmmaker who sees the events away from the fight as the real fight.
"That shift in focus means a few changes are necessary," he remarked. "For example, rather than seeing crowds cheering Ali after the Rumble in the Jungle victory, you put the crowds cheering him before the fight, on his way to the stadium. His final moment is not in the ring; it's after he tells off Don King and stands among the people. That's the ambition of this cut."
Ali Gave A Sacrifice He Knew He Could Never Get Back
The symbolic nature of Ali's existence was not lost on Mann but while the new cut seems to be a timely one, he argued that it was never meant to tie in with any outcome.
"Well, we started working on this cut before it was determined who was going to win the election," he said. "But yeah, the racial aspects and the emphasis on the political impact Ali had … that's not a coincidence! Obviously, in the Sixties, during a regime that I was not a fan of because I was against the war and my politics leaned very much toward the left, Ali was someone who I looked up to because had a commitment to a stance. He was not the sort of person that would be all 'Me, me, me, … I, I, I … what's my presentation on Facebook?' He was concerned with the world around him. He was a symbol of resistance. He was willing to sacrifice what he could never reclaim. Those three or four years he didn't box – they're gone. Because in the end, he could not look at himself in the mirror and think of himself as being the person he wanted to be if he complied. So, yeah … it's definitely timely."
Given the force of protest that is running against Trump, could a new Ali emerge in Mann's opinion?
"We will see. If you had asked me six months ago, I'd have said you could scratch the surface of Donald Trump and you'd find a Nelson Rockefeller Republican. I'm not saying that now. No one knows what's gonna happen. So yeah, we'll see if there's a new Ali. There had better be."
Source: Rolling Stone