Mike Tyson Movie Review by Kenneth Turan
"Tyson" is not a conventional film biography.
There is no variety of viewpoints, no back and forth about episodes in his life, and, except for interview footage from the past, no other voices heard.
What you get is Mike Tyson, former heavyweight champion, former substance abuser, former prison inmate, talking with that unexpected slight lisp.
You may not be happy with everything said, but you will not be bored.
"Tyson" starts with clips from the 1986 victory over Trevor Berbick that made him, at just 20, the youngest heavyweight champion ever.
Actually, the word "victory" doesn't begin to do justice to Tyson's savagery in the ring. He takes Berbick apart with a ferocity that is almost terrifying, a ferocity that led to knockout victories in his first 19 bouts.
What we see in "Tyson," however, is an unexpected side of that person, a more thoughtful, introspective aspect of someone who clearly means it when he says he never thought he'd live to be 40 (he'll be 43 in June).
Tyson's childhood memories are the most moving and memorable parts of the film. His depiction of being brutalized in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn are quite something, as are his tears when he recalls how his fears of being bullied were essential in driving him forward.
Into crime before he was a teenager, Tyson was sent to a juvenile detention center in upstate New York, where his boxing potential was recognized and he was introduced to Cus D'Amato, a trainer/manager who'd worked with Rocky Marciano, Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres.
The teenage Tyson and the seventysomething D'Amato saw something in each other, and their intense connection was the key emotional relationship of the fighter's life.
"He'd tell me, 'you have a chance to change your life, you could devastate the world,' and I started believing in this old man," Tyson relates.
When D'Amato died five years later, Tyson felt "scared, alone, vulnerable, naked to the world," and the question of the direction his life would have gone had this surrogate father lived longer hangs over the entire film.
Tyson's story became tabloid fodder personally and professionally.
The fighter talks about his ill-fated marriage to Robin Givens as well as the rape conviction that led to prison, an experience he characterizes as "the closest thing to death."
Tyson's career had no shortage of drama either.
He lost the championship in 1990 to a 42-1 shot named James "Buster" Douglas, and his uncontrollable fury at what he considered to be head-butting by Evander Holyfield in 1997 led to an episode of ear-biting that ended his chances for another championship.
"I have the mind of an extremist," Tyson says at one point, "I don't know how to live in the middle," and this unsettling documentary proves that without a doubt.
"Tyson" Film Biography Movie Trailer
Tyson MPAA rating: R (for language, including sexual references).
Running time: 1:28.
Directed by James Toback;
Produced by Toback and Damon Bingham.
A Sony Pictures Classics release.
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