Picture a small kid living in the ghettos of New York. He talks with a lisp, flies pigeons, and gets picked on by the neighborhood kids. He's a little pudgy, and lacks any sort of self-esteem to make him a productive person. Are you picturing Mike Tyson? Yes, the same Mike Tyson who won the world heavyweight championship at just 20 years of age. The same Mike Tyson who was accused and convicted of rape, and was sentenced to 3 years in prison. The very same Mike Tyson who bit off Evander Holyfield's ear during one of his last fights.
It's hard to picture Mike Tyson as a self-conscious kid who was picked on at an early age instead of the big bad boxing legend known for his short temper, but that's exactly the way the new documentary 'Tyson' portrays one of the best fighters of all time.
Director James Toback has Tyson sit in front of the camera and basically recite his entire life story. After being humiliated by a neighborhood bully who killed one of his pigeons, Tyson beat the kid up. In a shaky voice the grown Tyson exclaims that was the last time he'd ever be humiliated like that again.
He got in with the wrong crowd and started robbing people. His gang even went so far as to steal from drug dealers. Tyson never thought he'd reach the age of 40. After being discovered and taken in by his mentor Cus D'Amato, who saw a boxer inside of angry little Mike, Tyson quickly excelled in the sport.
The documentary shows montages of Tyson's fights in which he'd knock his opponents out over and over in the first few minutes of the fight. He's scary and intimidating. It's hard to believe he used to be a frightened little kid, but after listening to Mike talk to the camera, you begin to realize that the scared child has never really left. He's still there, constantly fighting humiliation.
'Tyson' shows how fragile this boxing icon really is. I know the film is biased since it's all told from Tyson's point of view. When he calls the woman who accused him of rape a "swine," we realize his true feelings, but know we're not getting the full story.
Much of the documentary is shot in Tyson's house with him sitting on the living room couch. Toback continually splices in Mike's old fights and old footage of him giving interviews. The footage with Mike and Cus is actually pretty endearing. Mike's sitting there next to Cus like a wide-eyed little boy who's spending time with his idol. The stock footage tells its own story. Even without Tyson's narration, we can see what's happening as the film progresses. Like a clichéd boxing movie, Tyson starts out at the bottom. He's energetic and ready to take the world by storm. Then he does. He tears his way through the competition, all the way to the top, but after the endless streams of money and women he finds himself caring less and less about the sport that got him there. After prison he's visibly different. He's even more angry (yeah I didn't know that was possible either), and he announces on live TV after a fight that he lost, that his heart just isn't in the sport anymore.
This is one of the more compelling documentaries I've seen. A man so feared by so many people is actually continually frightened of being embarrassed. He's got some very deep personal issues. When Mike talks about his sexual proclivities with women and what he likes to do, it makes you shudder. Then on the other hand he's pouring his heart out to the camera. He's a brutally honest person, that much is clear. No one else would divulge so much seemingly incriminating information about themselves.
It's just a fascinating documentary in every sense of the word. I've never been a boxing fan, or a follower of Tyson, but this film had me gripped. Listening to his story I couldn't help but think how sorry I felt for him on the one hand, and how much I despised him on the other.
The MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer of Toback's film is a very solid high definition presentation. The core footage of Tyson talking to the camera inside his home has perfect clarity and detail. At times the California sun glaring in from the outside burns quite a bit brighter than you'd like, washing out some contrast, but for the most part, Tyson's face is heavy on fine detail.
The film includes a heavy amount of stock footage of varying qualities. From slightly grainy fight scenes, to early workouts with Mike that look like they were shot on a home video camera. Some of the fight scenes look like the color has been enhanced for the film, making them appear too bright. None of this has to do with the Blu-ray transfer though. The transfer does its best with the varied source material it's given, presenting the given footage as accurately as possible.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is as solid as the video quality. This dialogue driven film produces great directionality. Even the footage from the archives is presented in a fine manner. Audio anomalies such as hisses, cracks, and pops seem non-existent. Before watching the film I was worried that some of the old footage would be hard to hear, but it's not. While the surrounds and bass don't really make much of an appearance, we don't really expect them to in a film like this. The fight snippets feature some rear channel usage, but overall the film is mainly based in the front speakers.
This Blu-ray features a few more extras than the British import of 'Tyson.'
Mike Tyson lays out a very convincing tale of his shattered life. He's still battling inner demons, but says he's a devoted family man now. I can't help but wonder how this film would have been different after the tragic death of his four year-old daughter just a few months ago. 'Tyson' presents the boxing legend as a very fragile person, I can only imagine how deeply the loss of his daughter must have affected him.
Like or hate the man, you can't help but be transfixed by his life story. At times it's happy, other times sad, and occasionally downright disturbing. This film succeeds in bringing to light the Mike Tyson we never really knew. He's still a scared child trapped inside a viciously hot tempered man.
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