Sundance Review: 'Tyson' puts up a good fight
Is there anything left to say about Mike Tyson? After Robin Givens, Desire Washington and the Evander Holyfield bouts, hasn't the train wreck of the former World Champion's life been dissected enough? Director James Toback ("Two Girls and a Guy") didn't think so and if you're a boxing aficionado or too young to remember Tyson's rise and fall first hand this documentary should be a compelling and entertaining portrait.
Told completely firsthand during sessions shot at a Hollywood Hills home, Tyson comes across as more at peace, mature and articulate than this writer can ever remember. He pointedly never apologizes for anything (including the bizarre moment where he bit Holyfield's ear twice in one fight), but certainly doesn't revel in his more controversial moments.
Told in a conventional linear style, Tyson starts off recalling how rough it was growing up in Brooklyn, and more specifically, Brownsville. It was after being pushed through the juvenile corrections system that his talent for fighting was first recognized and eventually put him under the guidance of legendary boxing trainer Cus D'Amato. As someone who lived just north of D'Amato's Catskill, NY boxing academy, I keenly remember the local news introducing the young Tyson and his harrowing story from skid row to possible champion boxer. And while the death of D'Amato has always been a touchstone for the beginning of Tyson's troubles, hearing the former boxer talk about his former mentor is quite moving. Tyson has discussed him in previous interviews, but it appears the depth of this discussion brings out a vulnerable and emotional side he hasn't really shown before. This is certainly one of the more compelling moments in the doc, but unfortunately it takes place very early on.
Consequently, the film's other intriguing portions are much less personal. Toback smartly has Tyson talk about his mental state and analyze himself over footage of a number of key fights. Thankfully, this commentary isn't overdone, but from a historical perspective it brings great insight into the sport and Tyson's place in it.
Beyond that, there are a few interesting anecdotes (Tyson claims he had gonorrhea during his first title fight vs. Trevor Berbick, but didn't want to tell anyone), and the rehashing of his relationship with Robin Givens isn't as fleshed out as it could have been, but with Tyson only 42-years-old, the film ending is somewhat anti-climatic. Is Tyson really going to be able to stay out of the limelight? This project might have made more sense a decade from now when the years had provided even more prospective.
Its also hard to see "Tyson" making it to theaters, but it is, ironically, classy entertaning fare that could find a home on Showtime or HBO. And as mentioned previously, probably a must for all boxing fans or historians.