By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald
There was a time when the mention of Mike Tyson’s name did not invoke visions of a bizarre ear-biter or a convicted rapist or a ticking time bomb of an boxer whose animalistic instincts got the best of him.
In James Toback’s entrancing documentary Tyson, we hear the former heavyweight champion talk candidly about the tabloid-friendly incidents that caused his notoriety to eclipse his athletic achievements.
Listening to Tyson tell his side of the story, you come to understand him with new depth and complexity. Tyson makes you reconsider the man behind the legendary name in a way you probably never thought possible. Toback, a longtime friend (he had cast the boxer in memorable cameos in two previous films), isn’t interested in matters of objectivity or journalistic balance. Tyson is the only person interviewed, and the camera often draws in close, his face filling the screen in an uncommon level of intimacy.
Tyson, who repeatedly talks about his inability to trust anyone except his original trainer and mentor — the late, great Cus D’Amato — confides in Toback utterly, speaking so candidly that at times the film borders on confession. He takes the bulk of the blame for the failure of his eight-month marriage to actress Robin Givens. He admits he got so used to the partying and women his success had earned that he never took his fight against the 42-1 underdog James ”Buster” Douglas seriously, a miscalculation that resulted in his first loss. He discusses his relationship with Don King, which ended with Tyson’s ”stomping” the boxing promoter outside a hotel.
Tyson also talks about the rape conviction that resulted in a three-year prison sentence, a ruling he obviously still considers a great injustice (he refers to the woman who filed the complaint, Miss Black America Pageant contestant Desiree Washington, as “that wretched swine of a woman”).
Tyson is its most illuminating — and moving — when the fighter talks about his childhood, about growing up in a rough Brooklyn neighborhood where he was routinely beaten up by bullies, until he started to fight back, or when he’s playing with his seven children, one of whom, 4-year-old daughter Exodus, died last month in a freak accident.
Tyson makes that tragedy seem like the latest in a long line of blows to a man who managed to attain his place in history despite seemingly impossible odds. ”I’m just tired of fighting,” Tyson says near the end of the film. “Boxing has no place in my life anymore.”
Despite the wide range of emotions Tyson reveals to the camera, self-pity is never present: This larger-than-life figure has no trouble celebrating his accomplishments or taking blame for his mistakes. The movie humanizes Tyson and brings him down to the land of mortals, making his achievements loom larger. And if the boxer hasn’t entirely made peace with his troubled soul, Tyson suggests the struggle is going his way.
With: Mike Tyson.
Director: James Toback.
Producers: James Toback, Damon Bingham.
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 90 minutes. Vulgar language. In Miami-Dade: Regal South Beach; in Palm Beach: Shadowood.