What do you get when a documentary
filmmaker swoons over his subject like a 15-year-old girl who
thinks she’s in love? Well, aside from the fact that a
15-year-old girl would be severely deranged to have the hots for
a notoriously nutty boxer with a giant Maori tattoo engorging
his left eye, you get something along the lines of James
There’s no doubt that Toback
proudly “gets” Mike Tyson, but his film is merely a reflection
of this understanding, not one that encourages audiences to
consider Tyson’s personality. Furthermore, Toback doesn’t ever
present a critical expression of the material. He implements
stylistic flourishes like overlapping soundtrack repetition of
Tyson’s words in the interview-sessions and split-screens
showing different parts of Tyson’s face that do little more than
celebrate his basic ability to communicate Tyson’s pathology.
Toback may have felt he was walking an artistic high-wire as he
cleverly constructed the scenes in the editing room, but his
approach ultimately comes off as a prominent example of artistic
overkill. Watching Tyson talk, viewers come to understand the
nuances of the man’s personality just fine—Toback’s extra
touches feel like crude reiterations.
But Tyson is not a failure
because its subject is wholly fascinating on his own, even
though Toback seldom interjects thoughtful commentary or
provides viewers the opportunity to reflect on the film as it
plays. Most of the take-away from Tyson will occur after
viewing: there’s a lot to contemplate about a man who overcame
tremendous hardship in Brooklyn’s ghetto to become a successful
but wildly unstable boxing celebrity. And then there’s the
fascinating facet of the film that everybody’s been talking
about since its Cannes debut last year: Tyson comes off in an
uncannily tender light.
When free to process the boxer’s
personal confessions and general aura from the interview
sessions, it’s easy to find oneself enraptured in his story. Not
to mention, the interviews are well-supplemented by the
documentary’s telling of Tyson’s biography—the one element
Toback nails. Audiences will enter Tyson thinking about
the infamous moment in which the title subject bit
heavyweight-challenger Evander Hollyfield’s ear off, but they’ll
leave with plenty more to chew on than how that fight marked the
climax of his spectacle-laden career.
2.25.2009 at the Laemmle Grande 4-plex in Los Angeles, CA.
Tyson is rated R and runs 90 minutes.
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