Posted April 23, 2009 in Film

If it’s hard to believe that Mike Tyson was bullied as a Brooklyn kid. Remember that voice? Also, know that he was short, fat and spectacled. But when the middle-schooler finally threw his first punch, he won the fight and he won friends—a trend that continued for the next 23 years of his life. Small wonder he equated fists with power. By 11, Tyson was a criminal. By 12, at the New York State juvenile hall, he caught the notice of two-time heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson’s former coach Cus D’Amato—a gruff old man more important to Tyson than his parents (and, one suspects, deservedly so—D’Amato became his legal guardian). James Toback’s documentary Tyson isn’t a profile. It’s a conduit for Tyson to speak his mind. He’s the film’s only voice and Toback likes to fill the screen with several Tysons talking over themselves as he sifts, turning up the volume on whichever Tyson is saying something important. It’s an impatient technique that avoids chopping an interview into fast-forwarded sound bites and also underscores Tyson’s psychological vulnerability: Even when he’s the only one talking, the story is still two-sided. His sentences are riddled with therapy-speak about his traumas and insecurities, and they’re convincing. But he’s not savvy enough to hold back from calling his rape accuser Desiree Washington “that wretched swine of a woman.” (Of his conviction, when Tyson defends himself with, “I may have taken advantage of women before, but I never took advantage of her,” we burst into titters that are uncomfortable the second we stop—did he just admit he’s raped other victims?) By the end, all his mistakes make sense. The bankruptcies and ear-biting aren’t excused, but we see the pattern behind a boy who spent more hours studying punches than he ever spent in school, and a celebrity who had an entourage pawing over him at the ring, but after the match, no one in his corner. (Amy Nicholson)


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