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Tyson (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 88 minutes.

So what do you know about Mike Tyson? What thoughts come into your mind when you hear the name? Thug? Heavyweight Champion of the world? Rapist?

Whatever you thought of him, this film presents his story with all his warts. Producer-director James Toback, who used Tyson as an actor in three of his films, “The Pick Up” (1985), “Black and White” (1999), and “When Will I Be Loved” (2002), took the opportunity afforded by his relationship with Tyson to get him to tell his story in his own words. Using steadicams, he made a Hi-Def shoot during a week of intense complexity. Then followed eight months of research and editing. The result is a fascinating autobiography using Tyson’s contemporary interview before Toback’s cameras combined with archival films of his fights and interviews.

There are no competing voices in this film, and it doesn’t seem as if any are needed because Tyson is disarmingly honest about his failings.

He tells about his rough upbringing in Brooklyn after he lost both his parents, how he was a thug, a thief, a criminal. Then he came under the spell of boxing promoter Cus D’Amato, who turned him in a different direction.

But becoming the heavyweight champion at such a tender age didn’t mean that Tyson was ready to live the Life of Riley. On the contrary, things just kept going from bad to worse. Tyson tells it all.

He tells his side of the ear biting episodes in his last real fight against Evander Holyfield. What we don’t get is details about the rape charges and convictions that made him spend 3 years in jail for a sexual escapade that I imagine most people think was converted from consensual sex to an unfair rape charge. I know I thought his conviction was an outrage and I was no Tyson fan. Who could believe, knowing Tyson’s reputation with women, that this woman, who had just met him, would accompany him to his hotel room at 2 a.m. without the idea that she was going to have sex? But Tyson had a bad reputation and this was a jury’s chance to get him.

It sounds like Tyson had a habit of minimalizing women and treating them badly. If that is so, one got her revenge. Tyson doesn’t go into detail about what happened that night, probably because of risk of this woman suing him for defamation. He does allude to the hell of being in prison. He gives some specifics, but not many and little detail.

The films of the fights emphasize the brutality of boxing. I detest boxing and haven’t been shy about saying that it shames our society. While movies generally make it seem even more brutal than it really is, Tyson was such a brute that his fights are vicious. How anyone can watch these films, and they are uncommonly violent, and think that this is an entertainment that belongs in a civilized society is beyond me.

This is an exceptional, fascinating film.

April 7, 2009