Fueled by the nervous energy of its irrepressible subject, Kassim the Dream is a lively and colorful treatment of what’s thus far been a remarkable life. As a six-year-old in war-torn Uganda, Kassim Ouma was kidnapped and forced into military service by the resistance army. After taking up boxing (and the nickname “the Dream”), he eventually defected to the U.S. to pursue a professional career as a middleweight, ultimately becoming champion.
As a fighter, Ouma seems cast against type. Far from playing the tough guy, he’s excitable and shows his emotions freely. Kassim seems determined to show Ouma in a positive light: His on-again-off-again relationships with women are glossed over, but there’s ample footage of him playing with his kids. He also continues to agonize over the atrocities of Uganda’s civil war—both those inflicted on his family and those he was forced to commit himself as a child soldier—although the movie skirts any entanglement with larger political or moral questions, content to coast on Ouma’s force of personality.
The results are skin-deep but entertaining, particularly after the scene shifts to Uganda, where Ouma returns after a decade in exile. The doc becomes defined by his mood swings—from joy when he’s reunited with his grandmother to anxiety before meeting with Ugandan military officials—culminating in a final scene that vividly evokes the ever-present horrors of Ouma’s lost childhood.