Big George Foreman

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Big George Foreman
dir George Tillman Jr
scr Frank Baldwin, George Tillman Jr
prd Peter Guber, David Zelon
with Khris Davis, Forest Whitaker, Sonja Sohn, Jasmine Mathews, Shein Mompremier, John Magaro, Sullivan Jones, Erica Tazel, Lawrence Gilliard Jr, Sam Trammell, Matthew Glave, Austin D Jones
release US/UK 28.Apr.23
23/US Sony 2h09

whitaker sohn magaro

Is it streaming?

davis and jones
This biopic about the iconic boxing champ continually reminds us how inspiring his story is. But a more grounded approach would have a lot more impact. Director George Tillman Jr takes an anecdotal approach, skilfully gliding from one myth-making event to the next without any stand-out moments. While Foreman's story is indeed powerful, the film is far too earnest to make it as resonant as it should have been.
Growing up in poverty in Houston, George (Davis) joins the Job Corps. When his hot temper gets him in trouble, counsellor Doc (Whitaker) suggests boxing. Within a year, George wins gold at the 1968 Olympics, then takes the heavyweight championship from Joe Frazier in 1973. A year later at Zaire's Rumble in the Jungle, George loses the title to Muhammad Ali (Jones), then later retires and becomes a passionate preacher working with Houston youth. But financial strains get him back in the ring, and in 1994 at age 45 he stages an epic comeback.
Production designed to within an inch of its life, there's no grit on-screen. Even darker moments are presented as challenges that will clearly lead to triumph, which eliminates any sense of true difficulty or honest soul-searching. Because it's staged with a slick Hollywood-style attention to detail, the film looks terrific. And seeing everything through George's eyes makes events bristle with meaning, even if they're airbrushed to a squeaky clean shine. More complexity and texture would have made it much more compelling.

Screenwriting with this much intent leaves the actors with little chance to find nuance, as they are playing people who are larger than life. Davis brings his fantastic presence to the screen, especially as the younger, hungrier George. The fire in his eye is downright fearsome. As the older, bulkier George, Davis becomes enjoyably softer and funnier. Characters around him are little more than sketches. Even a powerhouse like Whitaker doesn't get much to do. But the supporting ensemble fills in the story well, adding some emotionality along the way.

Several of the events recounted here feel rather apocryphal, and the declarative dialog sounds wistfully nostalgic instead of like people actually speaking to each other. All of which leaves the film feeling like an inside job badly in need of even a hint of perspective. Indeed, Foreman's story is definitely worth telling, and at least this film recounts it in an accessible, entertaining way. But it leaves us wondering about the deeper truth that's left off-screen.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 24.Apr.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall