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Review: Big George Foreman (2023)

Big George Foreman (2023)

Directed by: George Tillman Jr.

Premise: A biopic of boxer and preacher George Foreman (Khris Davis). Emerging from poverty, Foreman becomes the heavyweight champion but leaves boxing to become a preacher. When financial troubles bedevil his philanthropic efforts, Foreman returns to the boxing ring.

What Works: Big George Foreman is a period piece with the story set between the 1950s and the 1980s. The filmmakers credibly recreate the time period. The production design looks of its era and the sets are well dressed and organic looking. Big George Foreman is a Horatio Alger story; it’s about a guy emerging from poverty to great success. However, the filmmakers frame that story within a social context. Foreman didn’t do it all by himself. He was assisted on his way up by family and mentors and social programs. This acknowledgement creates an effective storytelling parallel in the film’s second half as Foreman literally fights to save a youth center. Khris Davis is cast as George Foreman. Davis doesn’t look much like Foreman, at least not in his later period, but he does recreate Foreman’s voice and mannerisms and makes him a full character. The film has a few notable supporting performances, namely Sonja Sohn as Foreman’s mother Nancy, Forest Whitaker as Foreman’s trainer Doc Broadus, and Sullivan Jones as Muhammad Ali. Jones in particular impresses in recreating Ali’s persona and manner.

What Doesn’t: Big George Foreman includes a voiceover with Foreman narrating his life. The movie doesn’t need it. The narration just explains what is already obvious. George Foreman is one of the producers of this film and the picture has to be understood with that in mind. To the filmmakers’ credit, they do acknowledge Foreman’s infidelities to his first wife. However, Foreman was married five times and this film only includes two spouses. Like many other celebrity biopics, Big George Foreman exists as part of a marketing strategy to reinforce Foreman’s public persona and solidify the narrative around his life as a decent, god-fearing, and likable guy. The movie does that successfully but Big George Foreman has to be understood as an extension of a public relations plan. As a result, the film is safe and staid. It ignores any difficult racial aspects of Foreman’s life which is an extraordinary omission. The 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” was a major cultural moment and it would have been interesting to explore what that fight meant for racial issues and how it affected Foreman who was regarded as representing the establishment. The filmmakers barely address this issue and it’s a missed opportunity.

Bottom Line: Big George Foreman is a safe and respectable biopic. The filmmakers avoid anything challenging but they do tell this story competently and with a bit of humor.

Episode: #947 (May 7, 2023)