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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 Ben
October 11th, 2009

Mike's quote above perfectly sums up the undeniable power of "Tyson," a documentary by filmmaker and long time friend James Toback. Having known Mike since he was 19, no one else who could have made this documentary and have the subject be so intimately open. This particular one is more subjective than objective (although I'm not sure how objective most documentaries are today) in that it is comprised of Tyson speaking to the camera about himself. What is said about him is shown through archival footage and from those who know him, but in the end, this film is really about Tyson as a person, of how he openly admits the things he did wrong, and of how sees himself today. "Tyson" takes us on a journey from his rough childhood to where he is today, and we come to see a man who is eager to be a better person in spite of the damage he has done to himself inside and outside the ring.

The beginning of "Tyson" is perhaps the most illuminating as we get to see footage of Mike training back when he was a kid with trainer Cus D'Amato, a man who would become the father figure in Tyson's life. Like many others, Mike had a rough childhood where he and his mother lived in poverty and survived with whatever they had from day to day. A large portion of his time was spent committing petty crimes and getting in fights with other kids. Turns out he got picked on a lot because of his lisp among other things, and with that came the slow birth of him as a fighter. The prospect of being humiliated either on the streets or in the ring filled with a never ending fear that he ended up channeling through his fists in the ring. The problem is, that fear didn't seem to stop there.

We also get to see Mike Tyson in tears (he is human after all) as he talks about how lost he felt when Cus D'Amato died. It is very easy to believe it when Mike says that without D'Amato, he would probably be dead. Cus came to Mike at a time where he had no direction and gave him a chance when no one else did. Cus was the father he looked up to when after his real dad abandoned him and his mother. This gives a very powerful back story to Tyson that serves to explain his actions to an extent from there.

Director Toback features footage of Tyson's bouts in the ring, including those which he lost or got disqualified in. It all serves as a reminder of how powerful a boxer he was, and watching it left me astonished as to how long some of his opponents actually lasted in the ring with him. Mike pummels his opponents so mercilessly that it feels like there is no other fighter like him. Toback also shows different images of Tyson in split screens as he talks. This could have been an annoying effect, but it allows Toback capture the different sides of Mike; his anger, his deep sadness at what his life is come to, and of the fear that has been a part of him since his childhood. Toback's portrait of Mike Tyson may seem biased, but how often do we get celebrities or athletes opening themselves up to us so completely like this?

"Tyson" also does not skip over the more controversial parts of the man's life, and it allows us to get his perspective on things for a change. To this day, he still denies ever having raped Desiree Washington, a crime for which he was found guilty and sent to prison for. Mike ends up describing her as a "gold digger" who was looking for a little fame. This documentary does not serve to exonerate him in any way or provide evidence on his behalf. Whether or not Mike Tyson raped Desiree, it certainly captures the anxieties of being a celebrity and of people taking advantage of you. I should add however that on his commentary track on the DVD, James Toback said that he and lawyer Vincent Buglosi found the case against Mike to be largely unsubstantiated. Whether that's true or not, I can't really say. Nevertheless, Mike remains bitter about this and claims that it forever ruined his reputation by making him a favorite punch line (no pun intended) for the late night comics.

This leads to his describing his time in jail and how he felt robbed of his humanity. His descriptions of what he went through and what he saw is terrifying in its vividness. Whether he deserved to go to prison or not, there is no denying what a horrible experience it was for him. Still, he paid his debt to society.

We also see Mike's take on his brief marriage to Robin Givens, and it got to where I was waiting for that Pepsi commercial the two of them were in to come up, but no such luck. In regards to that infamous Barbara Walters interview with the two of them, Mike talks about how he was stunned at what he was hearing while looking like a deer trapped in the headlights as Robin described living with the boxing champ as "torture." Suffice to say, Mike Tyson has not had the best of relationships with women. It almost seems like a miracle that he just got married again, but maybe this time things will work out for the best.

What makes Mike Tyson's participation in this documentary so commendable is that he is so willing to lay himself bare in front of the camera. Throughout the documentary, he comes clean about how he lost the dedication to the sport of boxing and blames himself for being lazy with training for fights which he (by his own admission) deserved to lose. Mike also makes clear that it was his womanizing and drug use that really led to his career downfall more than anything else. Indeed, what is tragic about Mike Tyson is that he had many great opportunities through boxing that he probably would have gotten anywhere else in life, and he squandered it through poor choices, poor management (he is merciless in his criticism of Don King), and greed in what he made and consumed. Now we see him at the other side of all this as though he is a real life "Raging Bull," and Toback's documentary is almost a dare to hate him for who you think he is. But truth be told, Mike probably despises himself and his actions more than anyone else. Truly everyone deserves a second chance to get things right.

It doesn't matter if you're not a fan of boxing or of Mike Tyson. It won't matter if you despise the guy for what you think he did. "Tyson" is a highly emotional documentary that will move even those who could care less and who would just think that Tyson is just some overexposed petty thug completely undeserving of such attention. Toback's documentary may not change the way you think about him, but it will sure make you empathize with him all the same. Mike Tyson has come this far, he has a rough life, and he feels that he is wasted much of it despite his great success. But he's still here, he's paid a price, and he is ready to move on. The question is will we let him?

"Tyson" is both a brilliant and bold documentary, and of the best of 2009. With this film, Tyson goes from a man to be feared to a man you wouldn't mind having a conversation with.

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Oct 11, 2009 3:43 PM
also wrote a review of Tyson
In regards to the quote above, it was this one:

"It's like a Greek tragedy, only I'm the subject."
-Mike Tyson, speaking after a long silence about his initial reaction to James Toback's documentary about him.

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