Peter Eramo Reviews “Tyson” Documentary

There is a moment near the end of James Toback’s documentary Tyson that is quite revealing, somewhat telling, and inevitably tragic. It is footage of what would end up being Mike Tyson’s last fight (back in 2005) against journeyman fighter, Kevin McBride. The bell rings for the start of the 7th round and Mike Tyson simply does not get up from his stool…refuses to leave his corner. He quits. He is done. And so is his magificent (and topsy-turvy) boxing career. He is interviewed immediately after the fight and admits that his heart is no longer in the sport, that he was not ready for this particular fight, that he would retire from the ring…for good.

The scene is moving and yes, sad, for many reasons. This is the same fighter who, when he first entered professional boxing, was a one-man wrecking machine. A street-fighter who would intimidate and beat his opponents with his ferocious stare before the bout even began. If the fight went more than one round, it was considered a bit of a defeat for Tyson. He was young, he was strong and he seemed virtually unbeatable…a tiger caged up and ready to pounce. Discussions about whether Mike Tyson could possibly become the greatest fighter in the history of the sport were not unheard of and with each passing fight, Tyson made a great case for himself.

This documentary does a wonderful job at showing this beginning stage of Tyson’s career, it’s tragic end in the McBride bout — and all of the drama that made up the years in-between. Toback (the writer of “Bugsy“) puts the camera right on Tyson in a number of one-on-one interviews and lets Tyson do all of the talking about his childhood, his career, his love life, his time in prison, and so much else. We don’t hear Toback and most importantly, the filmmaker lets the viewers make up their minds as to what they think about Mike Tyson the fighter, Mike Tyson the husband, Mike Tyson the human being. It’s really a kind of self-portrait done on film, in the same manner that Rembrandt or Van Gogh would do, but rather than use canvas, Toback uses the medium of film. Should we trust everything that Mike Tyson has to say here? Again, that is left up to you, the viewer and that is part of the beauty of this documentary.

I enjoyed the film as a whole. It was fascinating to watch this once destroyer of men open up — here, he is candid, vulnerable, intelligent, angry, caring….in a word – raw. The only point that is actually “staged” for the film is when we hear Tyson narrate a poem in the middle of the film. Everything else is Tyson on the cuff, simply answering questions about his professional and personal life. We see what a tremendous influence his manager and personal friend Cus D’Amato had on him and how he remains with him to this day, though Mr. D’Amato passed even before Tyson became the heavyweight champion of the world. The relationship comes through here on film and it is truly touching.

We hear Tyson’s view on women which is fascinating. He speaks of his ill-fated marriage to Robin Givens and the footage of their interview with Barbara Walters is an interesting one as we watch Givens humiliate and embarrass her husband for millions to see. We also see Tyson get into his rape conviction and the years he spent in jail for his assault on Desiree Washington. To this day, Tyson denies this charge and we can see the bitter resentment he feels about his accuser. Toback also gets into Tyson’s sour relationship and attitude regarding promoter Don King and the infamous ear-biting fight with Evander Holyfield.

There is a lot covered in this 90 minute documentary. You don’t have to be a fan of boxing to appreciate the film at all. Nor do you have to be a fan of Mike Tyson. I found it an enjoyable watch (for lack of a much better word) because Tyson is such a fascinating public figure…he is either loved or hated. And his life does resemble that of a classic Greek tragedy, which is illustrated nicely here. Toback does a great job of including old footage and taking us on the journey that is Tyson’s rise and fall. There is a bit of footage of Tyson at a press conference and a reporter asks him an insensitive question — Tyson goes ballistic! I mean, he goes off! He starts screaming and cursing and insulting this man. He looks like a raving madman ready to kill. The scene is interesting because I did not hate Tyson here. By this time, I understood the man a bit more and could only feel sorry for him. It was a defense mechanism that Tyson has been using all of his life…he reminded me of a King Kong that was taken out of his indeginous surroundings and put on display, out of his element.

Overall, a strong, tightly edited film. Very moving and it was rather enjoyable listening to Tyson speak to so much that has happened to him. I would recommend it to anyone with even the slightest interest in this multi-faceted, fascinating man…

Film: Tyson
Director: James Toback
Year: 2009

RATING: *** (out of 4 stars)



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