Tonight at Cannes, the story of heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali’s fight with the government over the his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War is the subject of the fascinating new drama, Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight.
The film tells the story of Ali’s famous courtroom battle. After being drafted to the Vietnam War, Ali claimed conscientious objector status on religious grounds, which therefore lead to years of dodging punches from the U.S. judicial system before finally facing the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. Director Stephen Frears’ (The Queen, High Fidelity, Dirty Pretty Things) latest film takes the focus away from Ali and puts the camera on the nine Supreme Court justices, lead by Christopher Plummer’s John Harlan and Frank Langella’s Warren Burger, who took on the case.
While Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Battle only spans several weeks, Frears juxtaposes Ali’s story with the changing landscape of the American culture.
”It’s an incredibly interesting way of telling Ali’s story. I’m told that there’s never been a film about the Supreme Court before, but then it’s a very original way of telling this bit of his story,” Frears says. “When you read books about that period in the Supreme Court, which was six months before Roe v. Wade, there’s always a lot about other cases. Nobody’s hardly written about it, so it’s incredibly interesting.”
The film relies on archival footage for the Ali portion of the story. ”One of the things they were doing was building up his character because he was such an interesting and articulate man,” Frears says. “You have actors playing characters and you have another person fully in archive. I’ve never actually seen that in a film before. He’s all in archive, so balancing that was a tricky job.”
The screenplay was written by Shawn Slovo and the film will make it’s debut tonight and will premiere on HBO this fall.