Thrilla in Manila (2008) Review

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Thrilla in Manila… Butterfly Of Doom

Thrilla in Manila (2008): 8 out of 10: This is what great documentaries are all about, changing one’s perception by teaching you something new. Thrilla in Manila also has that British tradition of targeting the preconceived notion without remorse. The sacred cow this time is that American icon Muhammad Ali. The film uses Ali’s only real nemesis, Joe Frazier, to perform this task.

Thrilla opens up in North Philadelphia in a dilapidated gym amid a ghetto where Joe Frazier lives and works. My first thought was, what happened? My second thought; so this is where Sly Stallone cribbed his last six Rocky movies; I loved the previous Rocky Balboa film but thought Stallone’s characters borderline poverty lifestyle unrealistic… I stand corrected.

The film does an excellent job finding relevant interviews with everyone from Imelda Marcos to Ali’s fight doctor. Also, the movie integrates the fight footage in a way few documentaries have (You can feel the heat of Manila in the ring).

This film asks a simple question. Why is Muhammad Ali rich, famous, and beloved? While Joe Frazier toils in poverty? The film then paints Ali in a most unflattering light. Claiming he is a racist and a member of a cult. All of this is very well documented, with Ali discussing his participation in Ku Klux Klan meetings a real revelation. Ali is shown attacking Joe for being too black and, strangely enough, an Uncle Tom, of all things. Besides, Ali is shown calling Joe ignorant, ugly and a gorilla.

Ali is the villain in this piece, and Frazier is the victim. Yet a strange thing happens over the hour and a half. The more Frazier brags on how his punches caused Ali’s current mental and physical state, one cannot help but wonder that Ali’s blows caused as much permanent damage to Frasier in the form of bitterness and self-destruction.

Here is a film giving Frazier a chance to display his self in a good light and pull himself and his family out of poverty. Instead, he comments, while watching Ali light the Olympic torch, that he wished Muhammad would fall in and burn to death. Ali’s doctor got one thing right; Joe Frazier is a stupid man.

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