Friday, October 5, 2012

30 in 30 - Day 5: Tyson

Well, in looking at the first four flicks I've reviewed, I've found myself wondering if there will be a homerun film in the mix?  A diamond in the rough?  Or maybe a complete dud.

A lot of 3's have popped up in the ratings so far.  But I'll give you a hint when it comes to tonight's offering...that's not going to happen.

Tonight's film - Tyson

Tyson (2008)
90 mins.
Rated: R (for language and sexual references)

"The most ferocious boxer ever to step inside the ring, Mike Tyson was at the age of 20 the youngest heavyweight champion in history.  But within a few short years, the baddest man on the planet was himself on the ropes, the victim of his own rage and fear.  Told exclusively through the compelling words and commentary of Iron Mike himself, 'Tyson' is a powerfully frank and provocative look at one of the most controversial and misunderstood sports figures of all time."  (source: the back of the dvd case)

This is the first film I actually watched from the comforts of my own living room.  I borrowed the dvd from a friend.  Thanks.

The owner of this dvd raved about the film when he first saw it.  It immediately piqued my interest (as I'm a sucker for a good sports doc).  But it's Tyson.  I'm not a big fan of his.  So I never pursued watching it.  With my 30 in 30 coming together a few months back, I decided to add it to the list.  Meh.

I was hoping for a good selection of archival footage, photos and interviews, but was quickly disappointed and at times looking at my watch.

The doc starts out with a montage of Tyson winning the Heavyweight Title in 1986 over Trevor Berbick.  As I started to hear Mike Tyson talk, I quickly became frustrated and confused by the clips and the editing.

Clip after clip after clip.  Overlapping clips creating run on sentences.  It was a bombardment of Mike Tyson talking.  From his living room couch adorned with animal print pillows, I quickly became disengaged from the film.

He started talking about his childhood and how he was bullied.  His first fight with a kid older than him and his troubles with the law.  The way he described events and his grasp of the english language made me think "Is this guy telling the truth?  Or is it HIS version of the truth?"

There are no other interviews...just him talking.  I needed something to be of interest to me - and quick.

Enter trainer Cus D'Amato.  He started working with a 16-year-old Mike Tyson and groomed him into a heavyweight contender.  Tyson describes how Cus would tear him down and re-build him, both physically and emotionally.  Giving him confidence.  You can clearly see how much D'Amato meant to Tyson as he has a very difficult time talking about him - the emotion is overwhelming to Mike on screen.

Just a year before Tyson would win his first championship, Cus D'Amato passes away.  This devastates Mike.  But he pushes through and in 1986 wins his first World Championship.  Shortly after, he unifies the heavyweight title.  Dominant and unbeatable, many think he will remain champion for many, many years.

Enter the women and his treatment of them.  Mike Tyson talks about women and how he likes to dominate them.  Again, as he is talking I am finding it hard to believe what he is saying.  He eventually meets actress Robin Givens and within weeks asks her to marry him.

Remember the Barbara Walters interview with the two of them.  Well, there's clips from that show.  Tyson reflects back questioning how she could talk about him like that.  He talks about how he was in a defenseless position.  Again, I question this.

Divorced after only 8 months of marriage, Tyson soon loses inside the ring as well.  The Buster Douglas match where he is upset for the title is discussed.  Mike talks about how he lost all belief in himself.  His divorce, the loss of trainer Cus D'Amato.  It all falls apart.

The film then moves on to his 3-year jail term.  Again, I got the feeling that Mike is describing things as if he is the victim.  I'm losing interest again.  While in jail he says he became a Muslim, but he became too extreme of a Muslim.

He regained two titles upon his return to boxing, but that's all overshadowed by the Holyfield debacle.  Tyson claims he just "blacked out" for no reason and he bit Holyfield in the ear in retaliation to Evander's constant headbutting.  Again - playing the victim.

He blames this person, he blames that person.  His posse, his managers, Don King (whom he despises) - everybody.

His fall from the ranks is particularly sad.  Losing to Lennox Lewis in 2002 made him look like a fool (both during the pre-bout media conference and after the match where he admits it was just for the money).  Same is said for his 2005 loss to Kevin McBride - his last pro fight.

In the post match interview, Tyson talks about how his heart is no longer in boxing and that he took the match strictly so he could pay the bills and feed his family.  He never took the bout seriously and didn't even train for the fight.  He flat out quit.

He talks about his post-boxing life, his struggles and how his kids are his life.  He wants to be a better person.

And then it ends.  Abruptly.  Just like that.

I sat back for a couple minutes after watching the documentary and kept asking myself "What was truth and what was fiction?"  I wondered why there was not a single person interviewed for this film.  It was wall-to-wall Tyson.  Hearing him talk for a couple minutes is hard.  Try listening to him for 90 minutes give his life story.  Not too fun.

Some of the early archival footage of him training with D'Amato was neat to see.  The young Tyson looked truly ferocious.  But the footage of his pro fights looked like they were bad vhs dubs.  Poor, poor quality footage overall.  And a big lack of it in total.  Nothing that the public hasn't seen before.  News footage, the Barbara Walters interview.  Nothing.

There was the odd personal photo used but nothing that added to the story.

I was not a fan of the way it was edited.  It seemed all over the place and just kept chugging along.  No real pace or flow to the film.  It was just one long, hard to understand interview.

So is it getting a 3?  Yeah right.  It's going immediately to the bottom of the list.  I'm curious to see if it comes out of the basement.

1.5 out of 5

Here are some other reviews I found online for the film...

Roger Ebert

New York Times

Rotten Tomatoes

Up next...Pumping Iron


  1. It is extremely tough to get into a movie and really like it when you have virtually zero interest going in. It pretty much has to be astronomically good to even get an average rating in that case. I know that tons of movies have been recommended to me (some that are recognized as absolute classics), but generally, if I didn't care to see it going in, I'm not going to like it. I've pretty much stopped the practice of watching movies others recommend unless I am truly interested in the subject.

    I did like 'Tyson', but I am a boxing fan and his story is fascinating to me. I also enjoyed that the movie was so different than most because of him being the sole input.

    I'd give it a 3/5. :-)

    1. I was wondering what your score would be on it (knowing you are a boxing fan).

      I honestly thought I'd enjoy it and was really looking forward to it - even as the opening montage ran. But Mike just comes off as ingenuous to me. I just couldn't make up my mind if he was really being truthful or just looking for sympathy.

      I do agree that taking the risk of presenting the movie as sort of that "one man show" style is different. But I can't go so far in saying that different is good in this instance.

      Thanks for your comments. And looking at what some of the other reviewers have rated the flick's me swimming alone (Ebert gave it 4 stars!!!).

      A '3'......... :)

  2. Well, here's the thing: Mike's crazy. He's being truthful AND looking for sympathy. There's no doubt in my mind that he is being completely biased and deflecting blame everywhere during his story. There's also no doubt in my mind that he believes every word of what he is saying. The guy needed/needs help in his life. Early on he had D'Amato to take care of him. After that, the vultures swooped in and he was helpless, which is interesting in itself, since he was the most feared man on the planet in the boxing ring. He's an interesting guy. I wonder how much his life would have changed if D'Amato had lived another 10 years.

    1. Really interesting thoughts.

      I have no doubt in my mind that Mike needs help. But I don't know if he's being "truthful". I believe what he's saying is what he feels he needs to say in order to get by in life. I'd be curious to see if in 5 years from now the story remains the same or if "the facts" change in his mind.

      You're right about the vultures. But I have no doubt Mike had his indulgences and vices as well. Helpless? I don't know. He allowed it to happen. Could it have been avoided? Maybe not.

      If D'Amato would have lived...I have no doubt we'd be watching a completely different documentary. It would have been interesting.