Director: James Toback
With Tyson, James Toback fashions a sharp documentary out of a blunt object. Mike Tyson was the self-styled “Baddest Man on the Planet” during his heyday of the late 1980s through the1990s, holding or contesting the heavyweight boxing crown through physical prowess and intimidation. During a grudge match in 1997, he chewed off part of the ear of rival Evander Holyfield.
The law caught up with him: Tyson spent three years in jail in the early 1990s on a rape conviction. But there are always tales and tears behind the headlines, and Toback’s doc spins them like a carny huckster. Big, bad Mike, the man with fists of iron and a giant flame tattoo on his face, is deep down a misunderstood softie.
He was bullied at school, taunted for keeping pet pigeons and generally treated like a dumb lisping lug from Brooklyn. He says he learned to fight because, “I’m just afraid of being treated that way again.”
Like a man in a 12-step program — he also spent time in rehab — the ex-champ confesses his sins in straight-to-camera testimonials. Toback, who normally deals in dramatic narratives of jocks, playboys and thugs, lets his subject speak at length, interspersed with archival and split-screen boxing footage.
It’s fascinating to hear Tyson speak. No one pretends that the documentary is objective appraisal — there are almost no commentators besides Tyson himself.
Extras include a Toback commentary and several featurettes.