Big George Foreman
Big George Foreman (or Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World, to give it its full, rather meandering title) fills a prodigious, Foreman-shaped hole in the pantheon of boxing biopics. Or, perhaps more accurately, it applies a sticking plaster over it in its inability to get under the skin of the boxer, the preacher, or, in fact, the entrepreneur. A performance of seasoned durability by Forest Whittaker as Foreman’s trainer, Doc Broadus, spirited performances by Khris Davis and Sullivan Jones as Foreman and Muhammad Ali, respectively, and faithfully realised set pieces struggle to elevate Big George Foreman above its failure to string together the many lives of Foreman into a sequential arc. As a result, the film ultimately adds up to an episodic slideshow, charting the formative moments of a life and career, from poverty-stricken youth in Houston’s Fifth Ward to a remarkable second ascent to heavyweight supremacy at the age of 45.
It is perhaps unfair to expect a wildly eclectic history to be monolithically assessed in the space of two hours. Michael Mann’s Ali struggled to put the pieces together some 22 years ago, while Martin Scorsese’s brutally operatic masterpiece, Raging Bull, still the insurmountable peak of the genre, reads more as a cacophonously realist study of paranoid psychosis than a sports biopic. Like Ali, Big George Foreman lacks the throughline that may otherwise have made for a structurally sound character study, lurching from fight to fight, sermon to sermon and commercial to commercial without any real concern for the common denominator. Unlike Ali, however, Big George Foreman also lacks the three-dimensional texture of the era that made the former, for all its faults, a cinematic experience.
Davis, in his first leading role on the big screen after supporting parts in Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit and Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah, is the component that comes closest to achieving coherence, successfully capturing the vulnerability of Foreman with eyes that project a childlike innocence that juxtaposes with his frame, honed for optimal destruction. His transition from the young, athletic Olympian to the older, more sluggish, yet equally powerful disciple of God is convincing, while a training montage of Foreman preparing for his comeback is the only time the film strolls within reach of innovation.
There are parallels with Mark Wahlberg’s Father Stu in the portrayal of a fighter of brutish technique yielding to a spiritual epiphany, preaching the antithesis of what they had previously traded in. Similarly comparable is the missed opportunity for inventive and courageous filmmaking afforded by the material, which is instead realised in conventional, by-the-numbers storytelling that never matches the unconventionality of its biographical source. Eventually, what’s left is less of an air-sucking hook to the liver than a lily-livered jab.
Big George Foreman is released nationwide on 28th April 2023.
Watch the trailer for Big George Foreman here: