Michael Mann Talks His New “Ali” Cut

One person who has no issue tinkering with his films post release is Michael Mann. The master filmmaker has seen classic titles like “Manhunter,” “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Thief” all score reissues with director’s cuts.

And then there’s “Ali,” his Will Smith-led Muhammed Ali biopic which now appears to be tied with Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” in that both films now sport four markedly different cuts.

First there’s the “Ali” theatrical at 157 minutes, then the director’s cut from 2004 at 165 minutes. A third version was done again for television a few years on, and now with little fanfare a fourth version dubbed the “Ali: Commemorative Edition” hit stores this week on Blu-ray.

Running the shortest of all of them at 151 minutes, Mann spoke with Deadline as to why he’s still fooling about with the movie:

“With the hindsight of history, I felt the drama didn’t get all the way there. It wasn’t as strong as it should have been. I don’t think I changed anything on a movie like ‘Heat,’ but here, the proportion and how it made you feel, wasn’t quite right. I always knew how I wanted you to feel but I wasn’t sure that you were actually getting it. And then it occurred to me, what to do to make it be there.

I don’t know that it is any longer [than the original film], because I took out Ali’s fight against Cleveland Williams, which is maybe where you saw the prime that Ali lost when he was banned from boxing. I took it out because it felt like it was getting episodic.

In a separate interview with Village Voice, he also confirmed he’s removed the fight with Ernie Terrell, but added back in scenes offering more about the political and cultural context of the events on screen:

“I wanted to make that tangible. In the earlier visit to Africa, when Ali bumps into Malcolm [X], there was a lot of work done there to really connect the dots and make associations play in a much clearer way. And to show the death of [Prime Minister Patrice] Lumumba — even though it’s a historical shift, because Lumumba got killed I think in ’61. I wonder if people get it that the general who, after Lumumba is killed, walks into that room full of other military guys and says, ‘It’s done. C’est fait. It’s done.’ I wonder if they get that that’s Mobutu.”

Mann also re-edited his 2016 flop “Blackhat” with an alternate cut that screened theatrically last year. Still no word if that alternate version of the Chris Hemsworth hacking drama will make it to disc and VOD.