Big George Foreman Should Have Been Bigger
The biopic of Foreman, the man who won the heavyweight championship twice, two decades apart, has its virtues but is smaller scale than it ought to be
Big George Foreman Review
There have been about 500 different movies, over the last 50 years, about Muhammad Ali. There have been far, far fewer, in that same period of time, about George Foreman, another heavyweight champion from the 1970s, who famously fought Ali in the legendary 1974 fight known as the Rumble in the Jungle.
Foreman wasn’t quite as historically significant a figure as his one-time opponent, but he’s at least in the conversation when it comes to the most consequential heavyweight fighters in history. In fact, an argument could be made that Foreman’s career arc — he recaptured the heavyweight title, at age 45, 20 years after the fight in Zaire — was every bit as compelling. And that’s even before we get to the part where he made millions from the mass-market indoor grill that carries his name.
Now, we finally have an official, full-on George Foreman biopic, with the long and unwieldy official title of Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World. The film, directed by George Tillman )(who last made the outstanding The Hate U Give), boasts a very strong lead performance by Khris Davis in the title role.
It comes from Sony, through its “faith-based” Affirm Films sub-label, and it’s sort of a hybrid of a sports and Christian film, while wholeheartedly embracing many of the most well-worn cliches of both.
Big George Foreman, which was made with the cooperation of the actual Foreman as an executive producer, hits all of the important beats, but there’s something about it that just feels minor, like it’s not as ambitious as it probably should have been. A movie about someone of George Foreman’s stature should feel like an event, and this one just does not.
The film follows Foreman through his childhood, his early days in the ring, and eventually into his heavyweight prime, including his famous fights against Joe Frazier and Ali. The second half of the film focuses on Foreman’s near-death experience, his turn towards Christianity and his time as a Baptist minister, and eventually his championship comeback in the 1990s.
Davis — best known from Atlanta — plays Foreman over the course of about 25 years and is highly affecting in the role, one which required him to bulk up significantly.
Forest Whitaker plays Foreman’s mentor, stepping in for Michael K. Williams after The Wire actor died before production, although two other Wire veterans, Lawrence Gilliard, Jr., and Sonja Sohn, do show up in the cast. But an actor named Sullivan Jones won’t go down as one of the movies’ more memorable representatives of Muhammad Ali.
The most prominent previous Foreman film was the 1996 documentary When We Were Kings, director Leon Gast’s chronicle of the lead-up to the Rumble in the Jungle and the fight itself, and one of the greatest sports documentaries ever made. After a gestation of more than 20 years, the film won the Best Documentary Feature Oscar, and Ali and Frazier joined Gast on stage.
Not only did that Ali-Frazier fight form the basis of that great documentary, but it also comprised the third act of Michael Mann’s Ali, the definitive Ali biopic and a movie that leaves Big George Foreman in the dust in ways large and small.