September 4, 2009 in Features

Review: ‘Soul Power’ rekindles legendary concert

Ann Hornaday Washington Post
 

Timing is everything.

It took “When We Were Kings,” Leon Gast’s riveting 1996 documentary about the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle,” more than 20 years to arrive in theaters. So it’s altogether fitting that its unofficial sequel, “Soul Power,” would take another decade or so.

The new movie, about the legendary concert that preceded the 1974 boxing match in Kinshasa, Zaire, explodes in a burst of energy, musical genius and an eerie political prescience that makes it feel like something beamed from some past-is-future time warp.

Filmmaker Jeffrey Levy-Hinte gets “Soul Power” under way and chugging with swift economy, plunging the audience into the chaotic preparation for the three-day music festival, which, like the fight itself, was hanging by a slender financial thread.

Intercutting between frantic stagehands and such musical acts as James Brown, Bill Withers, B.B. King, the Crusaders and the Fania All-Stars making their lively way across the Atlantic, Levy-Hinte builds a sense of suspense that is finally, ecstatically broken with the concert itself.

High points include Withers’ mesmerizing performance of “Hope She’ll Be Happier,” King’s performance of “The Thrill is Gone” and Brown’s regal rendition of “Payback” and “Cold Sweat.”

Most uncanny, though, are scenes featuring Ali, who at one point decries racial profiling years before the term existed.


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