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2 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
James Toback

Written By:
James Toback

Mike Tyson

Tyson (2008)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
April 23rd, 2009

'Tyson' made me reconsider my perception of former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson. James Toback's fascinating documentary allows the subject to speak for himself, in fact the only voice we hear is Tyson's, who recalls his rough childhood in Brooklyn, where, as a teenager, he sold drugs, spent time in juvenile detention, until he was discovered, and trained by Cus D'Amato, the old man whom he regards as a father. D'Amato recognizes Mike's raw talent in the ring, teaches him to find the balance between speed and power, makes him into the legend he is destined to become.

Tyson is a surprisingly articulate and sensitive guy, who openly mourns Cus's death in 1985, understandable, since Cus is the only person who ever treated him with respect, cared about his welfare, and even welcomed him as a member of his family. Tyson is remarkably honest about his flaws, his sexual promiscuity, his temper, episodes of alcoholism and other self-destructive habits that negatively affected his career, and sabotaged his marriages.

I had an intense dislike for Tyson following his relationship with beautiful actress Robin Givens, covered extensively by tabloids, which ended in divorce after eight months. There is a scene where Givens is describing to Barbara Walters, how she lives in fear of Mike, and how he tends to be abusive when he gets angry. That he was abusive, both verbally and physically, to Givens is something he does not deny, but the film does not cover this in much detail, and is perhaps too lenient with Tyson, willing to move beyond this and delve back into the details of his various matches; he was undefeated until his loss to James "Buster" Douglas in 1990. Douglas delivered one of the biggest upsets in sports history.

Tyson held the world record for fastest knockouts, usually downing his opponents in the first round, in less than a minute, sometimes in less than half a minute. He reflects on how fame came too quickly for him, before he was mature enough to handle it. Eventually amassing a fortune of nearly $500 million, Tyson joined the ranks of MC Hammer and other celebrities by spending himself into bankruptcy. As he notes, he either had too much money, or no money.

He was convicted of rape, a charge he disputes, and spent three years in prison, before making a comeback. The rape victim was Desiree Washington, a woman Tyson insists lied about the incident, perhaps for publicity, but again the movie does not attempt to decide whether Tyson was innocent or guilty. He converts to Islam in jail, and this brings him closer to Muhammad Ali, whom Tyson counts as a personal friend, and mentor. Tyson sired six children, and there is evidence to indicate that he is a loving and supportive father, who speaks proudly of how his oldest daughter is planning to attend college.

Most interesting, however, is how Tyson dissects each of his major matches, describing his strategy and fighting style, something boxing enthusiasts might find insightful. It all leads up to his bout with Evander Holyfield in 1997, where Tyson notoriously bit off a piece of Holyfield's right ear, an event which led to the eventual revocation of his boxing license. Tyson apologized for this, and expresses regret, but also suggests that Holyfield employed some dirty tricks, as well, like using headbutts, which the referee failed to notice, but that caused Tyson to have brief blackouts. Did the media have a bias against Tyson when they reported on this story?

I always thought that Tyson was not terribly bright, but I quickly realized I was wrong about this, though he tends to speak fast and his words blend together, a problem made worse by a discernible lisp. I noticed a few mistakes, like when he talks about the countries he has visited, and mentions the president of Istanbul, which I assume means Turkey. Also, he pronounces satisfaction as "satisfication" at one point, but these are minor slip-ups. Toback has structured the film like a long interview, with bits of match, television, and home video footage, but mostly, this is just Tyson, as he is today, reminiscing about his past, and surely the exercise was cathartic for him.

If you wonder where the R rating comes from, it is for profanity, and there is one scene where Tyson lashes out at a presumably white heckler, using a string of expletives that is amusing and rather creative. That is how the film earned its R rating, since nothing else in it would qualify that I could detect. It is also worth noting that Tyson criticizes manager/promoter Don King, whom he condemns as a greedy, scheming bastard. A fine documentary, informative and to the point.

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