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Starring: Mike Tyson

Directed by: James Toback

Produced by: Damon Bingham, James Toback

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

     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 Toback’s Tyson.

     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.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 5.25.2009

Screened on: 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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