George Foreman Plays Well On The Big Screen



George Foreman Plays Well On The Big Screen

Big. The word appears in the title of the film. “Big George Foreman,” is a bio-pic about the life of George Foreman, a larger-than-life character. Known to most as a heavyweight boxer who became world champion in both acts of his boxing career, and to others for his name association with the “lean, mean fat-reducing grilling machine,” it's appropriate that Foreman's life story has finally made it to the big screen.

The George Tillman Jr. directed film was released on April 28 and is currently available to watch at selected theatres in North America and Europe.

As with any bio-pic, this one focuses on the major events in Foreman's life from his childhood up until he regained the heavyweight championship of the world aged 45 in 1994. With some significant moments to cover, and at just over two hours long, the film steams along at a fast pace – this may not be to the liking of all viewers, but it worked for me as it remained consistent throughout.

Cast, Characters and Getting Started

A small, but strong cast carry the film. Khris Davis is excellent in the title role and is superbly supported by Forest Whitaker, who plays Foreman's long-time trainer and mentor Doc Broadus. Sonja Sohn gives a noteworthy performance as Foreman's mother Nancy, while Sullivan Jones is excellent as Muhammad Ali – portraying the Louisville Lip at his antagonistic best when viewed through the eyes of Foreman.

Davis' facial expressions and body language when Ali is mocking him to the press-pack in Zaire capture a deep level of hurt. It is subtle, but very well conveyed.

Lawrence Gilliard Jr. also deserves praise for his cameo as former light heavyweight champion Archie Moore. Moore became part of Foreman's training team when he turned pro although he was let go after Foreman's loss to Ali. Gilliard Jr. doesn't have much screen time, but the moments he does have are memorable.

The film begins by letting us see a young Foreman, living in various parts of Houston, Texas, as his family need to make do with what little income single mother Nancy can earn. Foreman's schooling is touched on – during these days he couldn't control his temper and would fight anyone who made fun of him for having basic clothing or no means to afford lunch.

Young George Involved in Street Crime

We then jump to George Foreman as a young adult who is getting involved in street crime. Narrowly avoiding a brush with the law encourages him to focus on sorting out his future and he signs up for the Job Corps – an initiative which would educate, house, clothe and feed the men that signed up for it as well as teaching them trade skills.

During Foreman's time in the Job Corps, he meets Doc Broadus. Broadus, a former professional boxer, works as an officer at the California training camp Foreman was sent to and, in his spare time, teaches those who are interested how to box.

The scenes between Broadus and Foreman are understated, yet powerful. Davis and Whitaker are very watchable when on screen together. The young Foreman had clearly never had a father-figure in his life. Broadus filled this role perfectly for him. And developed him into a very good boxer.

The Boxing Scenes

In little over a year George Foreman progressed from novice boxer – the scene with Broadus showing George the basics of footwork was probably my favourite of the whole film – to Olympic gold medal winner at the 1968 games in Mexico City. His victory in the final over a vaunted Russian opponent with far more experience and its aftermath is shown before Foreman decides to turn professional, targeting the heavyweight championship of the world, and Joe Frazier in particular.

Big George's rise through the ranks is covered until he arrives at his date with destiny – a chance to fight Joe Frazier, depicted by current heavyweight Carlos Takam, and become heavyweight champion. The January 1972 showdown is framed as mission impossible for Foreman, who was regarded as a big underdog going into the fight in Kingston, Jamaica.

As boxing fans will know, George Foreman obliterated Frazier that night and the famous commentary soundbite from ringside commentator Howard Cosell – “down goes Frazier, down goes Frazier, down goes Frazier” – makes it into the film. It's a nice touch and the filmmakers deserve credit for their attention to detail.

Big George was now the heavyweight champion of the world and was enjoying the riches and fame that came with it.

Other boxing matches featured in the film include Foreman's defeat to Ali in “The Rumble in the Jungle” – this fight is covered in detail, while we see the key cinematic interpretations of his bouts with Jimmy Young and Michael Moorer along with some flashes of the fights he had against lower grade opposition during his comeback after a ten year boxing hiatus.

A very nice touch towards the end of the film is showing real footage from the 1991 blockbuster Foreman had against Evander Holyfield, filmed through the eyes of George's wife watching on TV from home.

The choreography of the boxing scenes in the film was fine I thought. Nothing ground-breaking, but they remained authentic to the way boxing was captured on camera during the two eras Foreman fought in.

Away From The Ring

Is this a sports movie? Or is it a film about life which just happens to focus on an individual who excelled at a particular sport? I'd opt for the latter.

Some negative points on Foreman's character are depicted in the film – especially his infidelity and treatment of his first wife at a time when he had just become really famous.

Foreman's religious epiphany and near-death experience after a 1977 defeat to Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico is covered, as is his ten year hiatus from boxing which followed. During this time George became a preacher, dedicating himself to Christianity. He also opened his own church and youth community center in his neighbourhood.

Now living a better life with his new wife and raising his family, Foreman's quieter life is interrupted by a requirement to make a comeback to the ring in order to make the money needed to pay the day-to-day bills and also to keep his community center open. It is shown in the picture that his manager made poor investments on his behalf, plunging the Foreman family finances into dire straits.

This is the part of the film that will probably turn off those who are there purely for the sporting spectacle. It perhaps slows down just a bit too much, but in doing so it is able to highlight the quality life Foreman built away from boxing during this time. The development of Foreman's character takes priority over sharply edited boxing sequences at this point.

Finishing The George Foreman Story

With Foreman needing to return to boxing, he seeks out his old mentor Doc Broadus to train him. Broadus looks at the weighty ex-champion and advises him to get his weight down to 265-pounds. Perhaps in a nod to the astonishingly good boxing film Raging Bull, Khris Davis piled on an additional 60 pounds of weight to make this look realistic. It put one in mind of Robert De Niro who also ate heartily in order to realistically depict the later years of Jake La Motta in the aforementioned 1980 classic.

An amusing training montage follows as George Foreman is seen dropping weight by chopping tree trunks, pulling a motor vehicle with a rope tied around his waist and carrying a medium sized cow on his shoulders. These scenes are authenticated during the closing credits as photographs of the boxer carrying out these exact activities are shown on the screen.

All in, Foreman's return to boxing was a success. He did well and became loved for his less mean persona. This led to him receiving endorsement deals, like the grilling machine, which ensured financial woes would never again visit his door.

The George Foreman grill became a worldwide sensation

George Foreman admitted that he thought the grill wouldn't do much, and that he'd give 'em away to relatives

Although Foreman continued to box until 1997, “Big George Foreman” ends on a glorious note with the Texan regaining the world title from Michael Moorer in 1994.

Overall, I enjoyed the film and would recommend it to anyone, even if they have no interest in boxing. I think the best way to enjoy it is on the big screen – it just fits perfectly with the magnitude of George's character, his achievements and the way his life evolved.

Cramming in 35-years of life into a two hour time window can't be an easy task for a filmmaker. Certain events need to be brushed over quickly or missed out altogether. While not perfect, “Big George Foreman” delivers a pleasant viewing experience and is certainly worth an evening out at your local cinema/movie theatre.

A boxing fan since his teenage years, Morrison began writing about the sport in July 2016. He appreciates all styles of boxing and has nothing but respect for those who get in the ring for our entertainment. Morrison is from Scotland and can be found on Twitter @Morrie1981.