IF the blood and gore of boxing lights your fire then Michael Mann has blasted out a winner with his exhilarating if thinly plotted biopic of the Great and Wonderful Muhammad Ali, possible the most charismatic figure to pack a punch since Sugar Ray Robinson.
It focuses in on the ten years of Ali's career that started with the famous Sonny Liston scrap in 1964 when Ali spooked the bookies by battering the favourite, and leads to the evocatively tagged Rumble in the Jungle where Ali outwitted the reigning world champion George Foreman to take back his crown.
Director Michael Mann has a deft touch with the mood and tempo of this barbaric sport along with a nifty take on the mesmeric sixties in the US of A with its political and social upheavals, not the least being Ali's fascination and admiration for black leaders like Malcolm X.
Indeed, he was to abandon what he terms the "slave" name of Cassius Clay in favour of his latter Islamic coda, handed down by the influential Elijah Muhammad, and was a fiercely passionate believer to the point of discarding his first wife because she wouldn't adhere to the principles of his religion.
It's a pity, therefore, that Mann hasn't opted to take a trundle down this avenue of Ali's life in more depth, as it may well have provided an intriguing insight into the social mores of the period. He leaves a lot to speculation but nevertheless it's an engrossing account.
Equally Ali's refusal to accept his military call up, which saw him stripped of his title, and the ongoing struggle against the might of the US establishment to oppose a jail sentence as a consequence of his defiance, is a fascinating insight into a man driven by a vision.
Will Smith brings almost a messianic element to his role as Ali, and apparently studied countless hours of film footage of the man in action as well as training ferociously to stand the pace. The performance marks out Smith as an acting force worthy of representing the life of this living icon, a man still held in high regard despite his personal slide into ill health.
Equally as enthralling is a heavily made-up Jon Voight as Ali's sparring sports commentator pal Howard Cosell who never loses faith in his hero, even when the chips are down and prison looms. And Mykelti Williamson is singularly convincing as the effervescent and razor sharp promoter Don King.
The only teeny flaw in Mann's direction is his decision to portray this in a quasi-documentary style, similar to that he adopted in the tobacco baron blockbuster The Insider. Rather than enhancing the tale, the admittedly seamless mix of fact and fiction lends an air of pastiche.
But there is no mistaking the essential truth that the story of Ali, no matter at what point it is picked up, is one of ultimate legend and folklore for the generations to come, even if Mann does strip bare Ali's propensity for betraying the women in his life.
Certainly there is nothing revealing in the script that could send shock waves rippling around the sporting community, or anywhere else. At the final cut it is simply a warmly sympathetic massaging of egos with never a hint of an illegal thumb-poke in the eye.