He wants your heart, he wants to eat your children.
But Mike Tyson also has a sensitive side, one he candidly reveals in James Toback’s documentary, “Tyson.”
Actually, calling it a documentary suggests many voices and sources contributing to paint an objective, balanced picture of the larger-than-life former fighter. You won’t see that here. Instead, you get wall-to-wall Tyson and nothing else — an extended monologue, a stream-of-consciousness couch confessional — which makes for riveting viewing. (Toback does include footage of young Tyson as a baby-faced contender, as well as the infamous child-eating comment directed at Lennox Lewis and, of course, that little love nibble on Evander Holyfield’s ear.)
We already knew he was a born showman and a volatile force — “I was knockin’ everybody out in spectacular fashion,” he says of his rise to dominance in the late 1980s — but “Tyson” also reveals him as a natural storyteller and an athlete surprisingly capable of eloquent introspection. He describes in detail being bullied in the rough Brownsville section of Brooklyn as a child, which led to his first fight. And he still gets choked up nearly 25 years later remembering the death of his beloved trainer and father figure, Cus D’Amato.
But he also recalls his brief marriage to Robin Givens as being “disastrous” and describes Desiree Washington — the woman whose rape accusation landed him in prison for three years — as “that wretched swine of a woman.”
Will the real Mike Tyson please stand up? Apparently he’s all these people and more and he’s not afraid to show them to you — and that mix of unpredictability and vulnerability makes Tyson, and “Tyson,” thrilling to watch.
Tyson is so fascinating, in fact, that Toback didn’t need to include images of the fighter in various split-screens, with the video and audio overlapping to create the impression that he’s talking over himself. It’s a technique the director goes to early, and you hope he’ll quickly abandon it, but no — he comes back to it again and again. Ostensibly, he took this approach to break up the visuals; that would also explain the images of Tyson strolling along the beach at sunset, which resemble something you’d see in a commercial for feminine hygiene products. But it’s more of a distraction then anything else.
Toback also omits a few details that are begging to be explained. For example, Tyson states toward the end of the film that his main function now is to be a father to his six kids. “Tyson” introduces us to the mother of two of them, ex-wife Monica Turner, but never bothers to inform us where the other four came from. (Tyson himself serves as a producer on the movie, and while he’s willing to share many personal thoughts with us, others clearly remain off-limits.)
Having said that, he’s obviously comfortable with Toback, who’s been a friend since 1985 and who previously directed him with Neve Campbell in “When Will I Be Loved” and a truly bizarre scene opposite Robert Downey Jr. in “Black and White.” It seems unlikely that any other filmmaker could provide such an intimate look at such a complicated figure.