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When We Were Kings

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When We Were Kings

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In 1974, former heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali upset then-champ George Foreman in a thrilling title match, a remarkable comeback after years of controversy concerning Ali's membership in the Nation of Islam and his draft resistance during the Vietnam War, which caused him to be stripped of his title. Despite some faults, When We Were Kings is an energetic, passionate documentary of this event, and a revelation for people who only know Ali as an ex-champ with Parkinson's and Foreman as a Care Bear. The movie celebrates the fight—and the accompanying concert featuring James Brown, B.B. King, and Miriam Makeba—as a high-water mark in African American culture, despite the event's bankrolling by Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seku and promotion by Don King. These dubious elements are skirted after a few cursory mentions, as though such unpleasantness would interfere with the feel-good spirit. Commentary by George Plimpton and Norman Mailer also detracts from the colorful and eloquent footage: Who needs talking heads in a film with a lightning-witted, brilliantly funny Muhammad Ali as its hero?