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Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Iron Mike is Back in ‘Tyson’

It’s difficult to imagine how such a complex and intriguing story, like Mike Tyson’s, didn’t reach the big screen earlier. Told with fidelity and a genuine interest in the subject, James Toback’s documentary ‘Tyson’ is as honest a documentary as you will find: he lets Tyson talk – a relatively straightforward endeavor few investigators of the truth (e.g. reporters, journalists, etc.) have ever attempted.

Tyson, though, is a difficult subject. He can be both verbose and incoherent, ruthless and compassionate, confident and self-deprecating. In order to highlight these subjectivities, the documentary plays several conventions of documentary filmmaking as well as one unconventional way to illustrate the contradictory and overlapping modes of Tyson’s thought. Toback splices together three angles of a given shot in one sequence in order to show the many perspectives one can take on Tyson’s words, which the audience hears in the background. The narration, however, is also spliced together almost seamlessly, but segments frequently overlap and bounce back and forth between ideas. Finally, the image focuses on one perspective and one Tyson narration to segue into the next discussion topic.

The film opened, I thought, unconventionally yet appropriately. You’d think it would open with scenes from Tyson’s second fight with Evander Holyfield – the fight in which Tyson bit off part of Holyfield’s ear. Instead, it opened more appropriately with the highlight of Tyson’s career: his 1986 bout with heavyweight champion Trevor Berbick. The film didn’t really go into the Tyson-Holyfield debacle until over an hour in. Then again, that was but an event in the roller coaster life of Mike Tyson.

Don’t mistake this film for Tyson propaganda or a type of chicanery to prop him back up to stardom. It truly isn’t. Tyson criticizes himself often and, as cold of a machine as he may seem, opens a door – his raw countenance – through which you can see his humanity.

My primary quibbles with this film are both its unoriginal subject matter and chiefly conventional documentary-style cinematography. Unlike, say, ‘Man on Wire’, ‘Tyson’ isn’t a viscerally captivating movie. I’m not sure if it really ever had the potential to be one.

Reel Score: 7.5 (out of 10)

The film ‘Tyson’ opens this Friday in New York and Los Angeles.

Tyson (James Toback, 2009)
Tyson (James Toback, 2009)

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