Unreal Movie Review: Tyson


When I think of Mike Tyson, I don’t immediately think of a savage, brutal fighter.  Instead, I think of an American tragedy, an abandoned and confused young man, and the numerous leeches and swindlers that took advantage of that young man’s talent.  James Toback’s documentary “Tyson” presents us with a portrait of a complex, terribly misunderstood man who only later in life realizes the mistakes he has made and the potential he has thrown away.

We know what Tyson was capable of when inside the ring, but Toback’s film shows us why Tyson was such a ferocious boxer in his youth, as well as why he became a punchline toward the end of his career.  For once, Tyson is portrayed as a human being and not an animal, and “Tyson” is easily one of the best sports films you’ll ever see.  Keep reading for my full review.


The film opens with Tyson discussing his life and career, and it soon becomes apparent that Mike Tyson himself is the film’s narrator.  The poignancy of this feature works wonders – what better way to explore the emotions, dreams, and nightmares of a man than to hear it directly from him?  Tyson totally opens up to the audience, too, his voice cracking often while tears well up in his eyes.  It’s an intimate look at a man who has been feared and chastised his entire life, and it becomes somewhat unnerving – or perhaps, enlightening – to see that the vicious, psychopathic Mike Tyson has real, genuine emotions and is a fragile and complex human being.  Without Mike narrating the film, the anecdotes would feel superficial, if not altogether inaccurate.


The film moves forward chronologically, chronicling Tyson’s life.  Mike narrates and explains his mental and emotional state during each phase of his life with a vulnerable honesty, and the images on screen alternate between Mike himself and old footage of Mike’s various neighborhoods, associates, and of course, fights.  We get to see Mike change and mature as the movie progresses, and the clips of a young Tyson stand in stark contrast to the present narrator.  Much of the film’s focus is directed toward the relationship formed between Mike and his trainer, Cus D’Amato, an unselfish elderly man who trusted and believed in Mike, so much so that he treated him like a son.  For the first time in his life, Mike had someone he could trust.  D’Amato transformed the confused, introverted, scared Mike into a confident, social, and efficient young man.


Not only was Tyson totally dominant under D’Amato’s wing, he was becoming a decent person as well – long gone were the days of fighting and robbing.  Of course, the tale of Mike Tyson is a tragedy, and after D’Amato’s death, Tyson had nobody to turn to, nobody to love, and the morally corrupt leeches that plague so many people with talent began to latch on to him.  Mike wins the heavyweight championship, but without D’Amato’s guidance, soon falls into a downward spiral of destruction, surrounding himself with drugs, alcohol, and lots and lots of women.  The focus and determination that made Tyson a great fighter died as well, and even the most casual boxing fan knows how the story turns out.


It’s not all heartbreak, though.  Mike has matured to a point where he accepts full responsibility for his actions and doesn’t seem to hold many grudges.  He refers to his tumultuous relationship with Robin Givens as simply unfortunate timing between “a couple of kids,” his love of boxing has been replaced by the love for his six children, and he’s learned to be a bit more careful with his money.  Don King and Desiree Washington, however, aren’t forgiven – nor should they be.  Even if you’re not a Mike Tyson or boxing fan, the appeal of this documentary is hard to deny.  From an exploratory standpoint, Toback succeeds in showing the audience just who Mike Tyson really is.

Five out of five stars.

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