The privileged world of madmen and their ferociousness can always be forgiven in our culture—if those madmen happen to be sports celebrities.
What is unforgivable, however, is when filmmakers won’t grill said privileged madmen over their actions. Tyson director James Toback’s shallow attempt at an examination of legendary boxer Mike Tyson is laughable.
The film is Toback’s second venture into documentary; his only previous documentary, 1989’s The Big Bang, is a mishmash of very brief interviews with various subjects regarding the hypothetical beginning of the universe and offers as equally slight an investigation into the psyche as Tyson does.
Thanks to cursory works like Toback’s, the vast majority of the public will not come to terms with the true nature of vicious yet lauded sports “heroes.”
Tyson, a 90-minute ramble from the “retired” then-40-year-old fighter, spotlights a pathetically shallow, lost-but-now-found self-righteousness. The man is just as twisted as ever, yet now he expects to get our sympathy. The only problem is, Tyson won’t take a deep look at himself, and Toback doesn’t try to help him do so.
Issues of anger and brutality are rarely discussed; Toback lets the deeper issues slide. Instead, he lets Tyson prattle on about trivial matters.
The trite Hallmark feel of Tyson’s emotions filters through as he spouts fragments of his life, dispensing the usual stories of poverty and life in the hood. Tyson discusses his heroes, like mentor Cus D’Amato, who helped rocket him to stardom, but marriages are quickly acknowledged and brushed over. His denial of sexual abuse toward one woman is supposedly compensated for by his acknowledged rape of another. His claims to the Muslim faith, only mentioned in a superficial manner, are merely an anecdote coming from this man whose only faith has been in the power of his fist.
The problem with documentaries of this sort is that the real issue—the fighter who is not willing to think about why he fights—is overlooked. Toback’s film plays into to the belief that “great” men like Tyson should not be bothered with intimate questions. Why discuss incessant anger or non-stop aggression, rape and animalistic tendencies with somebody as untouchable as Tyson?
The truth that is ignored is that, even if Tyson shrugged the tough questions, an inarticulate response from the giant would at least be an acknowledgement of the issue. Toback, however, doesn’t ask the tough questions. He seems determined to simply photograph a great legend, letting the movie deteriorate to little more than a jam session. Tyson comes off like a rapper who sits back in a Jacuzzi, relishing his badassness and how little thought he has to give to his answers.
Tyson’s inarticulate slurs and relentless lisp betray the simpleton underneath as he spits, “Cuz I knew I’d fuck’n kill someone if they fucked wid me.” A line like that in any other film could have led to 20 minutes of introspection. Anything less is a sock in the jaw.
Directed by James Toback
With Mike Tyson and Monica Turner
91 min., R