by M. Faust
Every person is the subject of a great or at least interesting documentary, in the hands of the right filmmaker. The most cynical (though not necessarily inappropriate) way to view Tyson is as part of a process to carve out a new career for the former heavyweight champion of the world, who earned as much as $400 million in his career but filed for bankruptcy in 2003. And it’s doubtful that anyone could have made this film other than James Toback. Aside from being a friend of Mike Tyson since 1985, Toback has made a career (marginal as it may be) out of intellectualizing his obsessions with the most brutish conceptions of masculinity.
Condensed from 30 hours of interviews, the film features no speakers other than Tyson, who tells the story of his life and career intercut with archival footage of boxing matches and public appearances. Toback edits his subject with multiple screens sliding in and out, sometimes with overlapping dialogue in different frames to make his speech seem like a seamless flow—a stream of consciousness, if you will.
It’s all quite engrossing in its well-crafted way. But you have to wonder, how is this supposed to make me feel about Tyson? Clearly we are listening to the voice of a man putting on a show. It may be a show of his true feelings, as he talks about his fears of physical humiliation stemming from a bullied childhood and his troubled (to say the least) attitudes toward women. But it’s still a performance, with Tyson at times clearly trying to clean up his language for the camera. And the lack of counterbalancing opinions only highlights that. Toback succeeds in persuading us that there is a human being behind the mythic brute, without quite convincing us that he is not still a brute or that he has any truly tragic dimensions.
Watch the trailer for Tyson
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