Saturday, May 9, 2009

A documentary review: Tyson (2009)

Tyson (2009)
James Toback – Director
Documentary - 90 minutes

At the height of his career Mike Tyson was the undisputed, undefeated, unified heavyweight champion of the world. He had unlimited supplies of cash, women, and cheering fans. At the height of his career, Mike Tyson was one of the most recognizable (and feared) people on the entire planet.

Everything that happened before and after is another story.

Director James Toback allows Mike Tyson to control this film, through never before seen, up-to-date interviews, and lots and lots of archived footage over the years. Tyson tells us what is on his mind in somewhat shockingly candid moments. Seeing the most feared man alive choke up when he speaks of his love for trainer Cus D’Amato and being a pall bearer at his funeral (only) slightly makes us remember he is human.

Hard-core boxing fans probably know the story, but it may not be widely-known by the average sports fan that Mike Tyson came from a terrible childhood. Spending his youngest years watching his mother and women-figures in his life prostitute themselves drove him to the streets. On the streets he was picked on at an early age, especially for being overweight. After one particular beating, Mike Tyson vowed to get revenge on anyone who made him feel like that again.

It was an eventual meeting with boxing trainer Cus D’Amato that would change the course of Mike Tyson’s life, and ultimately shape boxing history for much of the 80s and 90s. D’Amato took Tyson under his wing, just a young kid, not even 20 years old, and trained him to be an animal in the ring. But as much as a life saving force he was for Tyson as a trainer, it was his father-like presence that gave Tyson the mental stability to focus his rage against the world on to opponents in the ring.

This documentary gives us wonderful fight archival footage of very early years and junior Olympics, through his victory over Trevor Berbick to take the title and his loss to Buster Douglas in Japan and his first ever knockdown as a boxer.

Along the way we are taken inside the mind of this man with his own words, telling us the raw details of his life with Robin Givens and their failed marriage, his conviction on rape charges which landed him 3 years in prison at the prime of his career, leading to his conversion to the Muslim faith, and his eventual fallout with promoter Don King and his downslide as a once great champion to a fallen champ to the journey man Kevin McBride in 2005.

This is a fantastic documentary for anyone with the slightest interest in the life and career of Mike Tyson, though is definitely lacks some very key aspects: We needed more on the rape conviction and time in prison, for one. It is almost glossed over in this film (no denying it took place, just no unraveling of the details) and it played such a prominent role in his downfall as a champion it was really surprising not to see more. There was also very little of his relationship with Don King. I think most people would associate what they remember about the Tyson years was Don King promoting all his fights, and then hearing later on how he swindled Tyson out of tens of millions of dollars. All of this is summed up pretty quickly near the end.

Leaving aside those over-sights, this will go down as a must see sports documentary for me, as it really gives you open access to mind of a child trapped in an adult body, one full of rage and disdain, but almost unbelievably searching for redemption, which is what we hear from Tyson as he speaks of his faith and his love for his 6 children, now ranging from toddlers to college age.

**** out of 5

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