To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Big George Foreman is a biographical sports drama directed by George Tillman Jr. (Notorious) from a screenplay written by Tillman Jr. and Frank Baldwin (Cold Pursuit). Featuring Khris Davis, Jasmine Mathews, John Magaro, Sullivan Jones, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Sonja Sohn, and Forest Whitaker; the film is based on the life and career of world heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman.
In 1960, Nancy Foreman (Sonja Sohn) moves her family into a rundown house in the Fifth Ward community of Houston, Texas. Due to having little money and no job, Nancy has all the children split a single hamburger for dinner that night promising things will get better. George (Kei Rawlins) almost eats his burger without praying but is reminded to do so by his mother. Later that night Nancy tells George to work hard at his new school so that he is not held back another year. The next morning George heads to his new school eager to do well but is ignored by his teacher due to his poor appearance. During lunch, the other kids make fun of him for not having any food and start to call him George “Poor man” as a joke. This upsets George who punches the bully that started the quip in the face knocking him to the ground. When the teacher arrives to see what happened George runs away.
Years later, an older George (Khris Davis) now operates as a mugger stealing from drunks who leave bars. He and his partner attempt to rob a man who is revealed to be an undercover cop. When other cops arrive to arrest them the two run away and split up. George hides underneath a nearby house, covering himself in sewage to hide his scent from the police dogs. After the coast is clear George heads home still covered in sewage. While walking past a store George sees an ad on the television for Job Corps and decides to join no longer willing to risk going to jail. He talks to his mother who encourages him to go and work hard.
I have to admit that I didn’t know a lot about George Foreman growing up other than he was a retired boxer who became a tv personality that sold electric grills. I still have a George Foreman grill to this day. For me, his most notable boxing moment was when he was beaten by Muhammad Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle.” George Tillman Jr. dives into the backstory of Foreman to give the audience a lot of information that most people would have to find on a Wikipedia page. Foreman’s backstory is very similar to many Black professional athletes of his era. Many of them grew up in poverty, yet they had the drive, determination, and natural ability to make something of themselves. Seeing Black people succeed in the face of adversity is a story that will never get old in my opinion.
Biopics today have evolved into intriguing stories that don’t always cover a person’s entire life. Sometimes they are several big events strung together like in Steve Jobs or a single event like in Air. While I enjoy Tillman Jr.’s enthusiasm for telling Foreman’s entire story, I feel like that style of filmmaking is slightly outdated and is better suited for a limited series. Here I go judging a film by what it should be and not what it is, but I feel like the story should have focused on the second half of Foreman’s career with flashbacks to his younger years. An older boxer climbing his way back to the top while trying to save his church sounds more remarkable
Casting is a major part of any film and it isn’t easy when you have to find a good actor who also looks like the person they are playing. Not every director can get lucky like Taylor Hackford when he got Jamie Foxx to play Ray Charles. While I feel Khris Davis played the part well I do not think he looks enough like George Foreman. His skin tone is a little darker than Foreman’s – though I am glad they didn’t try to lighten him up because that’s another issue. It’s a small issue if at all but with him being the main star there may be an older generation of viewers who saw Foreman fight when they were young who may be taken out of the story by their differing appearance.
Lastly, the boxing in this film did not feel dynamic enough. Maybe it was the style of boxing back then, but viewers have grown accustomed to the over-the-top fights seen in Rocky and Creed so once you watch something real it feels a tad boring. Personally, any average Joe can watch the real fight online so it would have been great for the director to jazz the bouts up a bit for the big screen. As long as the major punches stay and the conclusion is the same viewers wouldn’t mind a little exaggeration.
Even with its faults I still find this movie a worthwhile watch. It’s an fascinating tale of perseverance, redemption, and faith. I give Big George Foreman a Decent 7/10. While this film might not be remembered well come award season I’m sure Khris Davis’ performance will be and his career will flourish because of it.