Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World
by George Wolf
Sixteen words in that title, leaving little room for nuance or any shred of mystery about the tale being told. And it’s a perfect fit for a film that is content to just summarize a life like a Wikipedia timeline, choosing the safest, most easily digestible path.
After a brief flashback segment, director and co-writer George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food, Men Of Honor, Notorious, The Hate U Give) just ticks off the events of George Foreman’s life in simple, linear fashion.
He grew up poor in Houston, started boxing during his time in the Jobs Corps, won an Olympic Gold in 1968, won the heavyweight belt from Frazier in ’73, lost to Ali’s “rope a dope” strategy in ’74’s Rumble in the Jungle, quit to be full-time preacher in ’78, came back to the ring 10 years later and won the heavyweight championship again in 1994 at the age of 45.
All of that info is always a search engine away, but Tillman Jr. just regurgitates it onscreen, never embracing the chance to dig deeper or deliver any new insight.
And there are two great opportunities here. The first is George’s relationship with longtime mentor “Doc” Broadus, portrayed with heart and sensitivity by Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker. The second is Foreman’s conversion to a Man of God. Either one of these could have given the film a strong foundation to build around, and an easier route to getting audiences closer to the real Big George.
Khris Davis (Judas and the Black Messiah) beefed up considerably to play Foreman, and while he looks the part, fight sequences range from lackluster recreations to the WTF choice of a deep-faked Davis being inserted into real footage from Foreman’s 1991 bout with Evander Holyfield. Comical portrayals of both Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell only feed a longing for the historical relevance of the 1996 doc When We Were Kings.
George’s rise to gold medals, heavyweight belts and best-selling grills has indeed been extraordinary. It deserves better than the ordinary treatment that comes from Big George Foreman.