Friday, June 12, 2009

Tyson: Thug life

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2009 at 12:01 PM


By Matt Brunson



DIRECTED BY James Toback

STARS Mike Tyson

As far as documentaries go, Tyson is a crock. Director James Toback is an acknowledged friend of former boxing great Mike Tyson, so for 90 minutes, he turns on his camera and allows the man to speak at length about his troubled life, both in and out of the ring. There are no other participants, no other voices to support or oppose whatever Tyson says — even Toback himself refuses to ask any pressing questions.

So when Tyson claims that he was innocent of the rape charge that sent him to jail, well, he must be telling the truth. When he states that first wife Robin Givens said false things about his mental condition during a Barbara Walters interview, we should take him at his word (even though the footage itself reveals that Givens was probably accurate). And when he claims that his first manager/mentor Cus D'Amato was the only person who cared for him — though Cuz myopically only turned him into a fighting machine, not into a man able to function in society — we're expected to accept that at face value.

Sorry, but no. If there's one thing that this film makes crystal clear, it's that, after all these decades, the ex-pugilist has barely developed as a human being. Tyson discusses how his jail stint turned him into a more spiritual person, but next we see vintage footage of him going psychotic on a reporter. He accuses promoter Don King of being the type of man who would "sell his own mother for a dollar" (a funny line), but he reveals himself to be equally beholden to high finance (when discussing an out-of-court settlement, he cluelessly notes, "It wasn't much money — 20, 30 million"). This documentary would matter more if Tyson came clean about his past or showed any genuine remorse for his choices, but instead, it merely functions as a disingenuous attempt to make him palatable to the mainstream (see also his role in The Hangover).

Realizing the limitations of both his subject and the material which he provides, Toback tries to jazz his film up with split images, overlapping dialogue and other tricks of the trade. But this grasping approach only serves to make a slender film even more insignificant. Certainly, Mike Tyson has a place in the annals of boxing, but in terms of cinema, his picture is no Raging Bull. It's more like Raging Bullshit.

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