Monday, October 26, 2009
Who would have thought that Mike Tyson, "The Baddest Man on the Planet," and arguably the most punishing heavyweight ever to step into the ring, was the chubby kid in gym class? He certainly was. As a child growing up throughout the troubled cities of New York state, he was a quiet kid, constantly picked on by classmates and peers alike. He knew how bad it felt to get beat up, he just didn't know how to fight back. To hit another person? He thought physical rebuttal unspeakable until one day when a kid ripped the head off of one of Tyson's precious birds. And as quickly as that, one of the greatest physical specimens of our time was born.
The subject of James Toback's Tyson is probably what you would guess: Mike Tyson. And in its 90 minutes, the documentary succeeds tremendously due to the fact that Tyson is just a fascinating guy. He has a lisp you would expect from a fourth grader, not from a man capable of sheer intimidation. The thing that makes this film so engaging is that Toback isn't simply listing and summarizing events, but rather getting under the skin of Tyson and learning what the man feels about his actions. There are obviously many emotions boiling beneath the surface of this man and we learn a lot of them in this film.
In addition to getting some brutal honesty out of the champ, Toback does more than just put a camera in front of the man. He shoots many scenes with a fascinating use of the split-screen that gives the film a sense of vivacity and liveliness. His directorial style is often times a breath of fresh air.
Without question, Tyson is one of the most controversial athletes to ever live, but there is good reason for this. Growing up in a terrible environment and being influenced by terrible people, he had been arrested 38 times by the age of 13. He was in and out of juvenile throughout his early teens, but when a man named Cus D'Amato came into his life, Tyson was transformed for the better.
Several times during the film Tyson is brought to tears over thinking about the death of his beloved trailer Cus D'Amato. This was a man who took young Mike under his wing and taught him how to be a respectable gentleman as well as a fearsome athlete. We can sense from the strength of their friendship that D'Amato's death shortly before Tyson become the heavyweight champion of the world had an impact that would affect Mike throughout the rest of his life. After all, the man won the title at only the age of 20. It's pretty remarkable when you think about just how young this guy really was. He is only 43 now, but it seems as if he has the wisdom and reflection of a much older man because he has lived through so much.
What Mike Tyson went through is similar to what LeBron James went through, but on a much larger scale. Both athletes were glorified way too much at too young of an age, and the difference between them is not that James is necessarily a better person, but that boxing is one of the much more grueling sport than basketball is. It wears on you mentally and physically perhaps more than any other sport and for Tyson to be crowned king before he could even legally drink was a sign of prematurity and rough things to come.
Many people dislike Mike Tyson because of his attitudes toward women. He admits he was over-aggressive many times, but it's impossible to ignore the pressures of the world he was living in. He remains loyal to the fact that he was innocent in the rape charges brought against him by Desiree Washington. In one of the film's best sequences, he talks about the effect his three years in prison had on him. Tyson is completely honest with us: He believes he was innocent. I don't know if I believe him or not because I think that even good people can make spur-of-the-moment mistakes, but I know what I do believe: That he is truly remorseful for not only his treatment of women, but also towards his drug abuse, and the way he carried himself as an athlete both inside and outside of the ring.
Compiling over 30 hours of interview footage, James Toback narrowed this film down to 90 minutes and you can be sure that he chose the right footage. I would be shocked if anyone came out of this film without changing their opinion on Mike Tyson at all. He fills up the screen with honesty and integrity that not many people in his position would have the guts to do. Tyson is a film that was not seen by many people, so if you have the opportunity, I implore you to see this film.