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‘Big George Foreman’ review: Biopic tells the story of boxing legend with standard, safe paintbrush

Director George Tillman’s Jr. description of the two-time Heavyweight Champion of the World seems most interested in the man’s second act.

Murjani Rawls

George Foreman’s life is rife with the current uptick in biopics as of late. He grew up poor in Marshall, Texas, with his mother and six siblings. After some trouble during his youth, he joined the Job Corps, found boxing, won a gold medal in the 1968 Summer Olympics, became the Heavyweight Champion of the World, lost it, left the sport to become a minister, and then came back at 45 to win the title again. All of that is worthy of the film’s actual title (Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World). However, the film itself doesn’t feel like it. Instead, it ventures through conventional means to tell the story – that feels like the main concern is to get one particular part of Foreman’s story without rounding out everything.

Director George Tillman Jr. does have sincerity in chronicling his subject – coupling Khris Davis’s portrayal as a man constructs one of the main themes that is supposed to usher us throughout the narrative. Foreman struggled with anger at a young age in Houston’s Fifth Ward – illustrated in scenes by a teacher not calling on him because of his clothing or schoolmates making fun of him because he didn’t have lunch. It wasn’t until Foreman joined the Job Corps that he learned a medium to harness that anger into something constructive.

His father figure and trainer Doc Broadus (Forest Whitaker), sees greatness in him, but it’s not smooth sailing from the onset. Although Foreman was imposing, he still needed to learn the technique and footwork. There were big ambitions like getting ready for the Olympics in a year and eventually winning the top prize in the heavyweight division at the Mexico City games. It seemed like everything Foreman spoke came into existence – culminating in a Heavyweight Title win against Joe Fraiser in 1973. Davis and Whitaker make for an entertaining pair – showing how the mentor and mentee shaped each other through conversations and successes.

Despite this, Big George Foreman spends much of its time speaking about the boxer’s anger as if it’s a never-ending specter constantly surrounding him. But there’s a sharp tonal shift when it switches timelines that does not provide the smooth transition it thinks it has. Foreman struggled within himself and his marriage after his defeat at the hands of Muhammed Ali in 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle.” A near-death experience convinced Foreman that he should abandon the sport and follow a higher calling. This is where the film takes a slower-paced approach to its storytelling.

Much time is devoted to Foreman’s reformation, but it doesn’t provide much of the needed emotional subject beyond money troubles and the conventional story of following your dreams. It also doesn’t even show Foreman’s textbook charm he used to sell his successful line of grills. Everything feels like it has to quickly jump to the following beat – contrary to the man who had to fight for much of what he has. Davis looks physically imposing, and this takes even more shape as Foreman’s later boxing matches are reenacted. Some depictions pack a harder punch than others (besides a somewhat jarring choice to use a deep fake on top of footage of Foreman’s fight with Evander Holyfield in 1991).

There’s a scene where Foreman returns home from the 1968 Olympics, and his old friends criticize him for his show of patriotism against the fists raised by sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos. It addresses his reaction for a second and then quickly decides to move on. Big George Foreman is an inspiring story of a Black man rising out of poverty to make his dreams come true – and it should. However, it takes the most “don’t rock the boat” way and aligns with many films of its ilk before it.

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