By: Sean Crose
“We can change.”
So says famed former HBO commentator Larry Merchant at the end of Foreman, an intriguing documentary on the life of legendary boxer turned pop culture icon George Foreman, which airs Wednesday night at 8 PM on EPIX. One of the interesting things about Foreman is that his life basically falls into a neat narrative. From brutal street kid, to brutal fighter, to sincere Christian, to the star of perhaps the single best comeback story in all of sports, to life as a permanent fixture in American culture, the Houston, Texas native’s tale has essentially been begging to become a film for years. Needless to say, Foreman the documentary doesn’t disappoint.
Foreman’s son, George Jr., is the force behind the film and his choice of Chris Perkel as writer and director is an effective one. Rather than employing a narrator, Ken Burns style, Perkel allows Foreman and those individuals who have been a part of his universe to tell the story themselves. The footage, some of it famous, some of it little seen, accompanies the storytelling in a precise, fast-paced manner that makes for entertaining viewing. The movie rarely lags.
What gives the film it’s strength, though, is its theme of change. For Foreman truly became a changed man after entering his darkest moment. It was a change that was as abrupt as it has proven to be lasting. Yet Foreman essentially starts from the beginning, showcasing “Big George’s” rise from street thug to heavyweight champion of the world, an all American tale of one young man’s rise from poverty to the good life. Then comes that famous loss to Muhammad Ali in Zaire in 1974 and the subsequent psychological fallout. It’s at that point that we see Foreman the villain, dying in his locker room after a 1977 loss to Jimmy Young.
Yet it’s also at that exact moment that the film presents the man’s turning point. Foreman does a very effective job focusing on its subject’s now famous religious experience, so effective that it should be viewed rather than read about. Whatever one makes of the events of that long ago evening, there’s little doubt they brought about a profound shift in Foreman the man, and that they made him a much nicer guy in general, a fact evidenced by the film’s numerous recollections of family and friends.
Naturally, the second part of Foreman goes on to tell the prolonged happy ending millions now know as if it were the plot of a classic film – how the fat, aging Foreman, now a Christian cleric, took up fighting again and eventually, very improbably, managed, at forty-five, to win back the heavyweight title he had lost to Muhammad Ali over two decades earlier before moving on to become an entrepreneur and ubiquitous celebrity. Sure enough, Foreman’s story is so well known as to be spoiler free.
Yet the people behind Foreman the film wrap things up quite impressively by returning to the theme of change at the end of their documentary. For those who know Foreman the fighter know that he didn’t just change as a person, but ultimately went on to change as a ring tactician, as well. And the filmmakers rise to the occasion by letting the viewer know just how that first change inevitably led to the second.