Tuesday, August 18, 2009

DVD Review: Tyson

Boxer Mike Tyson didn’t have the lyrical swing of Muhammad Ali, or the dazzling force of Joe Frazier, but he was something of an enigma. Because he appeared as a powerful blunt instrument, it was assumed by some that he was illiterate, that all he could do was fight. In his latest film, Tyson, director James Toback (Fingers, Black and White) delivers a fascinating account of this troubled boxer’s life by allowing Mike Tyson to speak for himself. And he is anything but illiterate. For the full length of the movie, Toback simply places Mike Tyson in front of the camera and (with the occasional inclusion of archival footage), we hear the story from the troubled boxer firsthand. James Toback has always been something of an enigmatic talent himself. Most of his movies, good (Two Girls and a Guy) and bad (Harvard Man), approach movie-making as tests of his character. There’s been a streak of reckless danger in Toback that is both unsettling and fascinating which is why his movies are so erratic. With Tyson, he sublimates his usual improvisational style and lets Mike Tyson seize the moment to nakedly reveal himself.

It’s hard to believe now but early in Tyson’s career many scrambled to associate themselves with this solidly built young man with the gapped-tooth lisp. He was unbeaten 15 times in his first year as a pro fighter due to a left hook that hit opponents as quickly as a gun shot. (He rightly earned the name Kid Dynamite.) In 1986, Tyson became the youngest world heavyweight champion in pro boxing by dropping World Boxing titleholder, Trevor Berbick, in the second round. His original mentor and manager Cus D’Amato had taken a brutal street kid and turned him into a successful and intimidating fighter. But after D’Amato’s sudden and tragic death, Tyson fell into the hands of Bill Cayton and promoter Don King, who was more the carny barker than mentor. Before long, Tyson’s problems fully erupted. His tumultuous marriage to actress Robin Givens ended. He fired his skillful trainer Kevin Rooney which ultimately lead to the deterioration of his abilities. And then, in 1992, the rape conviction that landed him in prison.

In Tyson, he talks about all of this with a surprising candor that at times is thoughtful, occasionally brutal, even self-mocking. But unlike Barbara Kopple’s wonderfully insightful documentary, Fallen Champ, Toback's Tyson doesn’t put the fighter and his life into the context of the boxing world with its history of corruption and brutality. It’s instead a personal portrait that seeks to reveal the many sides of Mike Tyson’s personality. James Toback, who cast Tyson in a small role in Black and White (where Robert Downey Jr. played a gay man who unwisely hits on the fighter), identifies with the contradictory elements in his subject – as he had years earlier in his friendship with football star Jim Brown. But Toback keeps his own peculiarities out of the picture. Tyson is a clear and clean confession by a man who doesn’t make excuses, or lay claim to our sympathies. The movie asks you to take the man – with all his gifts and flaws – face on. Tyson is an unsettling revelation.

Here's the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ItHFhH1tng

1 comment:

  1. Alas, nothing Mike can say will want to make me get that close to that face. Maybe if he was singing MacArthur Park perhaps....