Directed by James Toback
Release date: April 24, 2009 (Limited)
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Mike Tyson, at the age of twenty, is the youngest Heavy Weight champion who can reign for a long, long time.”
How grand it must be to be recognized by millions of people on a national level. But the highest of highs and the lowest of lows that life hurls at us so unexpectedly can also double as a great mystery. It is almost like Mike Tyson‘s philosophy on money: “I either have a ton of money or no money,” he winces into the camera with painful eyes. “I’m not an in-betweener. I’m a kind of extremist.” He is also an extremist in being prone to severe incongruity; his need to be associated with pain and remorse, and his struggling desire to part from it, makes Tyson, a man who experienced the highest of highs, a fascinating subject matter.
Tyson, a new documentary by director James Toback (who is a close friend of Tyson), is not exclusively an esoteric view of the chaotic life of the loose-cannon boxer. Toback, along with Tyson’s eagerness to be open, creates a sensitive documentary that can also work as a chart for depicting the highs and lows a professional career can present. At one moment the man is fully rich and renowned around the world and before you can even detect a fierce right hand coming at you he is down on his luck, a shrinking and coiled up man who was once an erected iconic image. The power of this documentary is that anybody who has found themselves in a deep and lonely hole can relate to the fight that’s needed to break out and escape from it.
If getting into the heads of intellectual scholars and maniacal murderers and actually understanding their ways of thinking were as easy as James Toback makes it out to be in Tyson, all society will have a better understanding of how elite and desolate human minds function. Thanks to Mike Tyson’s willingness to sit down and literally give a blow by blow analysis of his life and to the admittance of the wrong he has done, we have more knowledge into one of the most controversial sports figures in history, not to mention the amount of respect gained by his doing this project. He exploits his life openly and that life reveals itself to let loose secrets, fears and passions in simplistic fashion. Therefore his then blotched image is rekindled to form that of a newly cleansed soul. In a way Tyson does have an aura of human confession around it.
Most know that Tyson inside the ring is a vicious and insane savage, but when alone with him, representing a stifling confessional room, for 85 minutes we are able to discover that he is a gentle and sincere human being who undoubtedly has faults he admits to; being afraid, rushing into marriage and his rotten relationships with Don King and his second wife.
The first part of the documentary has Tyson highlighting his early life growing up poor in Brooklyn. He admits he’s thankful for being locked up in a juvenile hall because that is where he found boxing. This is how he got to meet Cus D’Amato, his greatest acquaintance on this planet. When the discussions of Cus, who was Tyson’s trainer until he died in 1986, begin to take form, the film packs its most powerful punch. Seeing Tyson break down while reminiscing about him, about how he took him into his home and took care of him, is a kind of Tyson know one has ever witnessed. A once unleashed pitbull he mirrored, prowling Brooklyn and the ring, slowly transforms into a prized pitbull winning top prize at the Westminster dog show.
The fights of Tyson are also discussed, most notably his 1991 upset loss to Buster Douglas in Japan and the two bouts full of headbutts and ear-bitings he had with Holyfield. Toback uses archival footage of these matches, and others, to showcase what exactly Tyson is talking about when he’s referring to such matches. Tyson expresses his sheltered vulnerability as he constantly reassures his viewing audience that he was afraid during his life and still is. But watch the fear in the eyes of his opponents. Tyson conceals well but the expressions of horror and frightfulness that etches themselves on his in-ring victims is priceless and eerie to watch.
Boxing’s main prerogative is to inflict pain on to your opponent which causes gashes and cuts upon the face, and even altering the way one thinks due to the pummeling the brain endures; the external state is as ugly as the internal state. Toback uses a lot of split-screen direction in his documentary which could well be indicating the fragmentation of Tyson’s life. Iron Mike did not only dominate the world of boxing but he allowed it to dominate him, and the end result is a man embodying and living what he dishes out: Violence.
**** of ****