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TYSON a James Toback film

May 10, 2009

Many people thing Mike Tyson is a psychopath, hands down. After all, this is a man who was convicted of and served three years for rape, then came back and bit Evander Hollyfield’s ear off in a fight, and now sports a Maori facial tattoo. But what you see from this documentary is that there’s a surprising amount of depth and, not as surprising, much conflict in Tyson’s character.

Aside from interview and fight clips and archival footage, the only voice in the movie is Tyson’s. He’s telling his story, his side of things. The movie covers his coming of age in his rough Brooklyn neighborhood, his time in and out of juvenile detention centers, and then his relationship with trainer Cus D’Amato, who got Tyson off the streets, recognized the potential, and made Tyson a believer in himself. D’Amato is one of the few people who actually looked out for Tyson’s best interests. Tyson tears up when he recalls that D’Amato was the one who told him, who actually bet him, that Tyson would become champion if he listened and did everything D’Amato told him to do.

Tyson’s knockouts are stunning on the big screen, and the movie artfully brings them to life as it tells the story of his early career. Tyson talks about his rape conviction (which he still denies), why he bit Hollyfield’s ear off, and the later, ugly days of his career.

But the best part of the movie is just listening to the man talk. The bizarre poetry of Mike Tyson’s stream-of-consciousness is fascinating. His vocabulary is surprising, and his take on things is always unique. Tyson comes across as just laying it all out there. He’s been judged his entire life. He has nothing to hide from anyone. He takes responsibility for everything he’s ever done, and talks about how big a role fear has played in his life.

The film is not a defense of Tyson. It’s an honest profile. A peek inside his complicated mind. For all those who have written Tyson off as a lunatic, they will find this film surprising. And they might be surprised to find themselves feeling some sympathy for Iron Mike.

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