Review by Michael Jacobson
Director: James Toback
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 90 Minutes
Release Date: August 18, 2009
ďI REFUSE to lose.Ē
Before there was Michael Vick, Barry Bonds or even O. J. Simpson, there was Mike Tyson serving as the cautionary tale of what happens when an immensely gifted athlete becomes his own worst enemy. At age 20, he became the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in boxing history. Now, in his 40s, all thatís left to him is to reflect back on a life and career that became a nightmare of legal and personal issues and unfulfilled promises.
Such is the notion of James Tobackís intriguing new documentary Tyson. There are no frills and no judgments placed, and nobody else steps in front of the camera. This is Iron Mike Tyson in his own words, much of which is spoken directly to the camera and to us. We donít hear questions, so the movie plays out like a confession. Tyson is older, and perhaps a bit wiser now, but history always leaves boxing fans wondering when and if the other shoe will eventually drop.
Tyson mixes the new interview footage with some classic clips of a young fighter on his way up. Tyson doesnít shy away from his troubled past, when he took to selling drugs and was always terrified of street fights, nor does he decline to give credit to the late Cus DíAmato, his early manager who took Mike under his wing and into his home, and claimed that Tysonís untapped talent gave him a reason to live.
Remembering the glory days of Iron Mike is a real treat. He still holds an Olympic boxing record by scoring a knockout in a mere eight seconds. He earned a reputation for his ferocious power, and the ability to knock out opponents early, much to both the delight and dismay of pay-per-view customers. He earned his title with a first round KO, and defended it time and time again with devastating punches and fighting events that you could actually completely miss if you got up to use the bathroom.
He could have been remembered as the greatest boxer of all time, but instead, his troubles began to turn him into a punchline. His quick marriage to Robin Givens made him appear to be an abusive husband, which he always denied. His other escapades didnít help his reputation. By the time he lost his title to Buster Douglas, he was being convicted of rape and heading to prison for three years.
He would reclaim that which was once his, but life never got back on track. He went from feared fighter to a train wreck, in and out of the ring. By the time he had his second championship bout with Evander Holyfield and was reduced to biting the champís ear, it seemed that the once brilliant career was finally no more.
Tysonís candidacy in discussing all of this is refreshing and cathartic, and one can only hope heís now at a place where heís comfortable in his own skin. He says heís done with the ring, but having appeared in a couple of movies (including a previous outing with Toback) may indicate that heís at a new chapter in his life. And I canít help but hope that this time, it all works out for him.
The documentary is a fascinating reminder of exactly what a documentary is supposed to be: showing us what happens without manipulation to serve a pre-determined cause, unlike so many that end up winning the top film prizes. Itís not perfectÖI could have done without Tysonís frankness about his sexual appetites, which adds nothing to the overall movie, but reliving his careerís high and low points is something that I relished.
This is an intimate portrait, and might serve as the final word on Mike Tyson. Itís only fitting that if it is, at least the final word belongs to him, and not his critics, stand-up comics, or boxing analysts. We can speculate forever about why Iron Mike went so wrong. For me, I prefer to look back on a time when it was all so right, and a 20 year old kid from the streets was making history inside the ring instead of outside it.
As you might expect, this film is by nature a mixed bag. New footage of Tyson at home or on the beach looks quite strong in high definition, but thereís plenty of old video footage mixed in that canít help but show the limitations of technology and age. It isnít the kind of disc youíd use to show off your system, but for the material involved, itís more than perfectly serviceable.
Likewise, you donít get too many demands from this TrueHD soundtrack being that itís mostly spoken words and some old fight footage. I didnít much notice use of the surrounds or the subwoofer, but I wasnít really missing them, either. Tyson, even with his distinct manner of speech, comes through cleanly and clearly, and that was really all I cared about.
The disc contains a number of extras, all centered around director James Toback. He provides a commentary for the movie, and appears in three featurettes. One focuses on him and Tyson at the LA premiere, one is Toback discussing Tyson, and one is his appearance on ďThe Big Picture ShowĒ.
Tyson is a solid portrayal of a legendary and troubled figure in his own words and a trip through the history of one of boxingís most unusual careers. James Toback let the man speak for himself, and the result is a most intriguing and engaging look back at a fighter who earned the world and lost it back again.