August 26, 2009


Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***½

Former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson previously appeared in two James Toback films, Black and White (1999) and When Will I Be Loved (2004). Apparently the director and the boxer share a strange kind of friendship, and so Toback's new documentary Tyson promises an undiluted look into Tyson's psyche, deeper than anything we've seen since Terry Zwigoff's Crumb. Unfortunately, it appears that Toback is out to protect and defend his friend as much as anything else, and so -- while Tyson is indeed fascinating -- it's also a missed opportunity.

Toback employs offbeat editing rhythms to record Tyson's stories and confessionals, so that dialogue sometimes overlaps from story to story. We hear about his days as a fat kid and how other kids used to steal his glasses. He entered a life of crime and went to prison, where he became interested in boxing. Then he met Constantine "Cus" D'Amato, who was well into his seventies when he took on Tyson as a young, hungry fighter. (Tyson is genuinely moved to tears when talking about his late trainer and friend -- clearly a father figure.) Later we hear stories of drugs and women, his failed marriage to Robin Givens, his rape charge, and the yarn about biting Evander Holyfield's ear. On camera, Tyson is surprisingly funny and eloquent (love his use of the word "skullduggery").

During some of his more embarrassing stories, Tyson is sheepish, but forthcoming and apologetic ("I was being a pig"), though sometimes his anger does come through even on camera (especially when talking about Don King). Overall, viewers will get to know more about Tyson than a mere collection of tabloid headlines -- and fight fans will get lots of great ring footage -- but Toback fails to find a bigger picture and leaves us with a fairly unsatisfying ending, worthy of a half-baked TV special.

DVD Details: Sony's DVD release does what all good DVDs should do: it improves the experience of the movie, and does so by including a lot more Toback. We get a featurette about Toback's publicity tour, a featurette about Tyson and Toback, and one with Toback doing an audience Q&A. Best of all, we get the director's "stream of consciousness" commentary track, which is still a bit low-key from one of our most fascinating, living crackpot-maverick directors. The disc itself is cleverly printed with the same design as Tyson's face tattoo.

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Posted by cphillips at August 26, 2009 11:24 AM
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