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Mike Tyson narrates his life story as a reaction to fear and as a resolution not to be bullied or humiliated as he was when a boy in Brooklyn's mean streets. He starts boxing while at a state detention center; his coach there sends him to Cus D'Amato who becomes trainer, father figure, and confidence builder. Tyson wins a series of championships and, for six years, is unbeatable. A failed marriage, a felony conviction, and lack of training lead to his fall. We see later losing fights and archive footage of other incidents in his life. Tyson concludes by speaking philosophically about being a father and trying to be a better person. Written by
"Tyson" received only one distribution offer during its run on the festival circuit, from Sony Classics Pictures. After Toback accepted the offer, the film screened at the Cannes Film Festival and received a 10 minute standing ovation. Many of the executives who initially passed on the film were at that screening. See more »
A boy comes to me with a spark of interest, I feed that spark and in becomes a flame, I feed the flame and it becomes a fire, I fed the fire and it becomes a roaring blaze.
[quote inscribed on his grave stone]
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no-holds-barred therapy session as much as biased documentary
I wouldn't want to be Mike Tyson, not in a million years or for a million dollars, at any stage of his life. He grew up on the mean, poor streets of Brooklyn, stole and robbed in his young teen years, got sent to Juvenile Hall and then was trained by Cus D'Amato, famous and talented boxing trainer, and then became a boxing machine in the ring only to see his self-confidence and inner demons take over him as he saw everything crumble around him. At least, that's what James Toback's film on Tyson would want us to believe, or have us hear him out on anyway.
What's clever, and most absorbing, about Tyson is that it doesn't ask us to see all of the truth in the facts in this man's life, but that there may be some truth in this man's own self-analysis. We get no other voice in the film to contradict or say otherwise what Tyson himself says in looking back (we see old videos of what other people have said about him, be it boxing announcers to the infamous interview Robin Givens gave to Barbara Walters with Tyson sitting next to her). He's not exactly a very "good" man even by his own estimation, but if there's one thing that he'd want to get out in the open, by his own admission, he's trying, Lord how he's trying.
The interviews, done as Mike Tyson was getting himself cleaned up of drugs and alcohol, are shot in the face-to-camera approach of Errol Morris, but there's another influence I wonder if Toback was tooling with which is Robert Altman. This may be the only documentary I can think of where the one and only interviewee's dialog and words overlap each other in most cases. This is very effective, such as when Tyson is talking about his time in prison for rape and we hear and see his various memories of the experience overlapping one another. This, plus a strongly edited split-screen effect, creates a kind of prism-vision of Mike Tyson in this very focused portrayal of the man, myth, legend himself.
It's self-confession and a history lesson. For someone who hasn't followed all of Tyson's career and personal life the former is put into good light. I learned almost all I needed to know about Tyson as a boxer from this film. As a human being that may be another matter. He is honest about himself, as if in a therapy session, but to what degree (even to his friend of 20 years, the director) is hard to say. But this only adds to the interest; how much his trainer's death in the mid 80s really had on him as a boxer is really hard to say, since he contradicts himself as saying he was never the same after his death, losing his already fragile self-confidence, while also becoming one of the dominant presences in boxing in the 20th century in the late 80s and early 90s.
What one gets from this film is something rare in documentary, which is no-BS bias. We get no other point of view but this subjective portrait, which is sometimes harsh on himself and sometimes, arguably, not harsh enough. For those who only know of the crazy-ass Tyson (i.e. "I'm gonna f*** you till you love me" quotes) one can see him open up on his own past of being so afraid and with such a lack of self-esteem that this profession he chose was the only logical way to go aside from death or in prison for longer than that of his rape conviction (which, true to subjective portrait, he still denies to this day).
It's not perfect as a documentary, and there are a couple of points I groaned inside from Toback's artistic choice, most notably the shots of Tyson walking on a beach at sunset with some poetry narration (that's right, Tyson breaking out the stanzas) that feel so against the hardcore personal nature of the rest of the picture. It's like we're all collective psychiatric interpreters of this incredibly flawed once-truly-great fighter, and at the least there's nothing else like it in boxing film history or just in theaters now in general. 9.5/10
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