Film review by: Witney Seibold
I was a boy and young teenager for a lot of heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson’s scandals and shenanigans. I remember jokes on “Tiny Toon Adventures” and “In Living Color” about the man and his ancillary scandelites like Robin Givens, Don King, and Buster Douglas. I remember how they had to change the name of one of my favorite video games, “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!” to simply “Punch Out!!” after he was accused of rape. In the 1980s, Tyson was endlessly lionized by the media as the new Greatest Boxer of All Time. When the scandals hit, it made his fall all the worse. Tyson, also a drug addict and an angry soul, ended up spending time in prison, tattooing his face, and generally behaving badly. He famously bit off his opponent’s ear in the ring at one point. Eventually, at age 39, he retired from boxing altogether.
James Toback, the edgy director behind controversial films like “Black and White” and “Two Girls and a Guy” has pointed his cameras at Tyson, allowing the champ to tell his story for the first time. There are no interviews with anyone else, there are no alternate points of view, there is just Tyson in his own words. Tyson, not well-educated, and having chosen a sport that involves getting punched in the head a lot, so he’s not necessarily eloquent, but there is a soulful hurt in his squinty eyes, shaded by a pinched low brow.
Tyson was always picked on as a kid, and would lash out occasionally, beating up his peers. He spent a lot of time in juvie as a result, and was kind of rescued from a life of crime by his first trainer, Harlan Werner. Channeling the boy’s adolescent wrath, Werner sculpted Tyson into being the youngest heavyweight champ of all time.
About Robin Givens, he was too young to get married. About the woman who accused him of rape, she is a lying harpy. As for his jail time, he clearly is edgy and mean because of it (“I will rape you until you love me!” he yells at a press conference). His drug use and life of iniquity was tempered by his wealth and his ego and his lack of self-reflection. As for Don King, he is one reptilian (pronounced rep-tile-lian) motherfucker. We even get a few words on that weird facial tattoo. It’s a Maori war symbol. The tattooist had to talk him out of getting hearts.
Self-reflection is all we get in “Tyson.” He’s not necessarily a sophisticated man, but he is philosophical about his life career, especially now that he’s 40 and retired for good. He is perhaps most eloquent after his last fight from a few years ago. Evidently, he quit halfway through the match, knowing that he was just not as driven or healthy enough to continue. When asked by a reporter immediately after the fight, he admits that he was merely fighting for the paycheck, and that he won’t disgrace the sport any longer.
“Tyson” offers a level of self-reflection rarely seen in films, and even in most documentaries. How wise of Toback to let it be in Tyson’s own words. He is not led by any visible interviewer, and the fight and news footage only serves to accentuate Tyson’s points. Here is your chance to see inside a hero/villain of the sports world. What you will find will be endlessly fascinating.