Likely one of the most interesting documentaries of 2009, “Tyson” is a fascinating elegy to one of the greatest heavy-weight boxers of all time. Once a vicious fighter in the ring, Mike Tyson is now a 42 year old man, still struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, still massively in debt, and a father. Director James Toback merges a lengthy interview with the former boxer, and footage from his boxing days to portray Tyson as he is – no more and no less. From his days as a young criminal on the streets of Brooklyn (arrested 38 times by the age of 13) to becoming the heavyweight champion of the world by the age of 20, “Tyson” is a documentary that picks apart all the details of Mike’s life and exposes them, both good and bad. In Mike’s case, it tended to be more of the latter. At the top of his game, Tyson was undeniably a brutal fighting machine in the ring, however, unlike the story of other heavyweight greats such as Muhammad Ali, his is a tale that is more tragic than anything else.
At his best, Tyson comes off as a lovable kid struggling to break the shackles of hardship on the streets of Brooklyn by becoming a protegee of his mentor Cus Dâ€™Amato – the man who took him in as a soon but never lived to see him become the world champion. He sheds tears over the mere mention of D’Amato, chocking up and unable to finish a sentence. But, at his worst, he is an addict of drugs, alcohol and sex – a man who is at times unknowingly and inexplicably vicious outside the ring as he is in it. At his worst, he infamously spends three years in jail for raping Desiree Washington, which he angrily denies to the audience. At worst, he is an aging boxer whose light has faded but struggles to grasp on to what little flickers remain, forcing himself back in to the ring several time for one simple and honest reason: money.
What is most interesting about Tyson is perhaps the ability for anyone who is watching to quickly get over his high-pitched voice and matching lisp that would typically pass him off as a mere fool. Instead, we meet a fairly articulate and knowledgeable middle-aged man, who, despite appearances and a dodgy past, is full of life experience that is worth taking note of. From his training to the moment he steps inside a ring and glares down his opponent; from the backstage fear he encounters when lacing up his gloves, to the increasing doses of confidence as he approaches the ring – there is no doubt some lessons to be learned from an ordinary man who was capable of one extraordinary thing.
For the most part, Tyson is a documentary where the protagonist holds back no punches, taking us deeper and deeper in to a past that is simply riddled with bad deeds. He is honest and filled with shame. He doesn’t ask for sympathy or even empathy. He is who he is.