Big George Foreman is a biopic that sets out to tell the incredible life of boxer-turned-pastor-turned-boxer-again, George Foreman. This was a man who was born into poverty, fought his way to success, fell under the weight of his own hubris, and climbed his way back up again. It’s a perfect recipe for any dramatic sports biopic. One could say that this film had everything going for it. While Big George Foreman contains an extremely talented cast and an extraordinary story, it all gets undercooked with less-than-stellar filmmaking-related decisions.
The film begins with Foreman’s childhood showing how he and his family are down on their luck in terms of finances. They all split a burger into four for a meal after moving into a house that looks like it has been abandoned for quite some time already. His mother and siblings all practice their faith while he scoffs and tries to ignore it. At school, George is ridiculed by both the teacher and his classmates for wearing run-down clothes and being the only kid who can’t afford to bring his own lunch. This is where the film sets up where Foreman’s excessive strength comes from: his rage. This is a man who grows up with anger towards the world that he believes turned its back on him.
One massive time skip later (get used to this), we now meet George as a young adult who now has fallen into a darker place as he spends his nights beating up and robbing people of their money. After an unfortunate close call with a police officer, George decides to join the Job Corps as a last-ditch effort to turn his life around. Things still don’t go well as George finds his way into problems with his fists being the only solution he knows. He then meets Charles “Doc” Broadus who recognizes his strength and decides to take him under his wing to become an amateur boxer.
The first half of the film becomes a distracting watch when you realize that the story constantly contradicts itself. The characters would always say that boxing is different from fighting. One is a sport with rules while the other is just a pointless act of violence. George is built up to be this massive force of nature that is fueled by rage. Doc’s entire motivation to teach George is to “put his strength into a better place” and to have him grounded rather than have him running around and causing trouble. And yet, whenever George steps into the ring, everyone encourages him to “unleash the beast.” It’s always a kill-or-be-killed mentality when the bell rings.
This makes nearly every character somewhat unlikeable. George constantly creates conflict for himself and everyone around him and the people he’s surrounded with are either encouraging his tendencies or turning a blind eye to them altogether. While this does make his turn to be a man of faith all the more impactful since he did it all on his own, it was still a difficult thing to see just how much the story continues down into a rabbit hole of questionable character choices.
George’s family lacks the proper screen presence to fully fulfill their role as a key emotional center of the narrative. George’s mom and sister do get a minor spotlight from time to time but everyone else is really just cardboard background characters. A massive waste of potential.
But of course, this is a boxing film. So how are the matches? They leave a lot to be desired. While the film is competently shot with relatively smooth editing, all of George’s boxing matches end before it even sets in that they have already started. Comparing this to modern boxing films like the Creed franchise or Southpaw, which have all done an excellent job at combining emotionally resonant storytelling with engaging fight sequences, there wasn’t a single fight in Big George Foreman that stood out.
The biggest problem Big George Foreman has as a film is how its pacing doesn’t allow any of the characters to be properly set up and introduced to the audience. It then makes everything feel a little bit hollow and cheap. How do we know that the next boxing opponent is a threat? Just have a throwaway line that the dude is scary, the bell rings, in less than maybe a minute or two, George wins. Onto the next. The story tries its best to breeze its way through George’s instant rise to success and yet it somehow feels like the most underwhelming boxing montage sequence. Scene one begins with George not knowing how to box and then next has him beating everyone with a flawless record. A lot of the big moments here that the film wants to emphasize feels undeserving because of the lack of proper build-up.
Big George Foreman does get a little bit better in the second half when our protagonist finally makes his transition to become a pastor after a series of very significant events happen to him. George finally becomes somewhat of a likable character. He’s no longer the arrogant, angry, and selfish man we’ve been forced to spend time with. He becomes a person for the community as he tries to preach the word of God.
A couple of years into this endeavor (yes this is another one of the many time skips) and a few more pounds gained, George is met again with financial struggles trying to keep his community center afloat. He only knows two things in life: preaching and boxing, and preaching won’t pay the bills. This prompts him to step back into the ring again but this time.
This is the point in the film where I started to truly root for George. His transformation from a dad bod into a dad bod with muscles is entertaining to see. But again, a lot of my core issues with the first half of the film are still present in the second half. It’s like the film is rushing to roll credits as fast as it can. Aside from boxing, George Foreman is also known for selling grills. This is clearly a significant aspect of his life and yet, it’s just one throwaway scene in the movie and a payoff line later on that’s basically “oh by the way, it worked!” and that’s it.
It’s especially frustrating given that every single one of the cast members is fantastic in their roles. Khris Davis as George Foreman not only looks the part but has the acting chops to be both intimidating in his anger and charming as a pastor. A brilliant physical and emotional performer. Sullivan Jones as Muhhamad Ali basically steals every scene he is in. He is such a fun and energetic presence and I just couldn’t get enough. Forest Whitaker is marvelous as usual but he is somewhat underutilized with the script he was given.
It’s no spoiler to say that George gains the heavyweight title back in the end. An incredible feat that no one ever thought was possible. The actual real-life fight was an incredible showcase of two brilliant fighters nearing the end of each other’s limit up until George lands a few powerful hits to seal the deal. The film representation, unfortunately, lacked the weight the fight had in both thematic and physical sense. You blink once and George has already won. And then the film abruptly ends.
Big George Foreman could’ve been an incredible film. It had the story, cast, and an excellent director in the form of George Tillman Jr. to ensure that this was a biopic worth seeing. While I won’t deny that there is some value to be had here especially when watched by the older generation that lived through Foreman’s career. Seeing all the real-life fights and personalities represented on the big screen was a delight. But fundamental storytelling issues really held it all back from being something special.
Even if I sounded a little bit too critical with this one, I’d still say that Big George Foreman is still worth a watch just to see a crash course of the man’s journey into becoming such an icon. Just don’t expect this to be the next Rocky.