Muhammad Ali is probably already the most dramatized and documented athlete in movie history, and “City of Ali” is an extremely light addition to the former heavyweight champion’s cinematic universe. This documentary, directed by Graham Shelby, focuses on Ali’s relationship with his hometown of Louisville, Ky., And how the city gave him a big start after his death in 2016.
Directed with the participation of Ali’s family – some of his children were among those interviewed, as was his wife, Lonnie Ali (who is also featured in September 2020 giving a speech on racial and social justice at the closing credits) – “City of Ali” presents an extremely summary overview of his career. It emphasizes Louisville-centric stories (of how town police officer Joe Martin encouraged Ali, then Cassius Clay, to pursue boxing, for example) and shows residents and friends recalling local sightings.
The film pays moving tribute to Ali’s generosity and lack of air. Kelly Jones of Louisville Metro Police remembers the time Ali entertained Jones’ 18-month-old daughter at an airport. Louisville media personality John Ramsey is pictured in a eulogy in which he remembers how Ali lifted the spirits of a losing boxer at the 2000 Olympics.
But the nuances of Ali’s relationship with Louisville – where Ali has faced discrimination as a black American and controversy over his refusal to be recruited – tend to get lost in the celebration of civic pride. And much of “City of Ali” is just arcane. Security measures for Ali’s funeral procession and plans to spread rose petals near his resting place aren’t exactly film-worthy topics.
Unclassified. Duration: 1 hour 21 minutes. Watch through virtual cinemas.