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Review: James Toback's 'Tyson'

Mike Tyson: Former Heavy Weight Champion A Warrior Pussycat

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Review: James Toback's 'Tyson'
Sony Pictures Classics
The soft tenor of Mike Tyson's gentle speaking voice never ceases to amaze. Is this really the world heavyweight boxing champ who inspired fear in his opponents -- or an overgrown pussycat? Tyson speaks honestly, directly, and often emotionally in James Toback's intimate documentary Tyson.
Tyson reflects on his tumultuous life, having never expected to make it to forty. He is willing to talk about it all: his childhood in a rough Brooklyn neighborhood, the thrill he experienced committing violent crimes as an adolescent, his wholehearted love for coach Cus d'Amato who took him into his home straight out of juvenile detention, and of course, the incredible rise and ultimate fall of his infamous boxing career.

But Tyson also talks about his failed marriage with actress Robin Givens, the rape charges that landed him in prison for three years, and other unsavory, difficult subjects, including drug abuse, infidelity, and the incoherent reasoning which compelled him to bite Evander Holyfield's ear not once but twice.

Tyson's life makes for a compelling story, that is for sure. Toback features interview of his longtime friend in two different locations: Tyson at home and on a deserted beach, a reflective, regret-filled loner pondering the waves. The independent filmmaker (Fingers (1978), When Will I Be Loved (2004)) makes artful use of these interviews, splitting the screen, sometimes showing two or three images at once, one line of dialogue on top of the other. In addition, he interweaves archival news clippings and footage of Tyson's most famous matches.

Sony Pictures Classics
Tyson offers no point of view other that that of Mike Tyson himself. He's impossible not to like, and again, the gentle quality of his voice is entirely disarming. Toback gives us an inspirational story of a kid from the projects who rose to enormous heights despite all odds, crashed back to Earth, and is trying to rise again -- as a doting grandfather.

But Toback also provides brief and unflattering glimpses into the nature of the former heavyweight champion as perceived by others. He includes footage of a broadcast interview with Tyson's ex-wife Givens, detailing her fear of an emotionally abusive young husband on the Barbara Walters Show, while a mute Tyson stares at the camera without expression. In an even more revealing clip, we watch Tyson -- no pussycat -- verbally attacking an opponent outside of an arena. By the end of his rant, Tyson needs to be restrained. He is not in the ring and he is scary.

Tyson (2009)

Starring: Mike Tyson
Directed by: James Toback
Produced by: Mike Tyson, Nick Jarecki, Bob Yari
Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.
Release Date: April 24th, 2009 (limited)
MPAA Rating: R for language including sexual references.
Distributors: Sony Pictures Classics
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