Ali's biggest match, his fight with the US government. A film about the politics and hubris surrounding the Vietnam War and the revenge exacted on America's greatest sportsman of the 20th century because he refused to fight in that war.
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In 1964, world champion boxer Muhammad Ali requested exemption from the military draft based on his religious beliefs. His request was denied and when he refused induction into the army, he was convicted and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. His case eventually works itself up the Supreme Court. In their first conference after the case is presented, the justices decide by majority vote to uphold the conviction and Justice John Harlan is tasked with preparing the majority opinion. He assigns one of his clerks, Kevin Connolly, to prepare a first draft but try as he might he believes that decision his wrong. His draft argues for overturning the conviction and Harlan agrees with him. The justice must now find a way to convince his colleagues. Written by
I remember the Supreme Court becoming a lightning rod during the presidency of Richard Nixon, when two of his appointees were repudiated by the Senate. I also remember the lengthy hiatus of Muhammed Ali from the ring. And I remember the passions of the 1960's and early 70's. This movie took me back to those days. However, the movie is more about the Supreme Court and the personal relationships between a group of senior jurists, some liberal and some conservative, who divide over the issue of Mujhammed Ali and his right to refuse to serve in the armed forces at a time when conscription was compulsory for most males. This is far from a convincing movie but it is enlivened by the newsreels of Muhammed Ali, a formidable figure in and out of the ring; President Richard Nixon; and the youth who confronted the established order. In this movie, the fight was on a court divided between the left and right, with a Chief Justice who wanted to avoid a difficult decision. The court appears to be made up of scatterbrained and feeble old men who are not inclined to take risks. I don't know how historically accurate this movie is but the Supreme Court is shown as an old boys club, not a group of serious jurists who form a third branch of government. It was made up of all men with only one black, Thurgood Marshall. I found it hard to watch the depiction of Judge Hugo Black as someone seemingly in the throes of senility. I believe in his day he was a great Justice. Frank Langella plays a rather staid, unimaginative and out of touch Chief Justice named Warren Burger, the man who succeeded the great Earl Warren. Christopher Plummer plays Justice John Harlan, a southern conservative who has a passion for the law. He hires a young man who advises him to rule in favour of Ali and his conscientious objector status, following the precedent set in 1955 for the Jehovah's Witnesses. The movie makes the liberal wing look far more sympathetic than their conservative counterparts, who sense no need for the court to rule on the case. But the Justices were capable of following a leader like John Harlan, who showed leadership by ruling on the basis of legal precedent and breaking rank with his boss who wanted a Court that would follow his orders. British Director Stephen Frears shows the Supreme Court as a branch of government that was able to move out of its own comfort zone in spite of itself.
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