The mostly first-person documentary Tyson isn’t a dud, exactly, but it does feel like a missed opportunity. Director James Toback exhibits his subject, boxing legend Mike Tyson, as a man of world-weary depths. Yet the multipaneled split screens and overlapping audio used to illuminate Tyson’s inner conflicts come off as stylistic gloss on an emotional void (or, better, lipstick on a pit bull). The film is all calculation, though that doesn’t make it any less of an engrossing talkathon.
Something draws us near—perhaps Toback’s own fascination, at once self-serving and empathetic, with his soft-spoken protagonist. Tyson’s effeminate voice has always made for an odd pairing with his brutish bulk, an inborn contradiction that he seems to revel in and expand upon in life. His Maori-inspired facial tattoo is key to both his persona and the film: It’s fashion statement first and self-expression second, about as believable in its overall genuineness as Tyson’s conversion to Islam during his early-’90s prison stint for rape. One of Toback’s more blatantly ridiculous visuals shows a pensive Iron Mike standing at sunset on a windblown beach, a PR-positive evocation of a misspent life. Yet the sentiment strangely takes hold, and one can’t help but want to toss this bruised and battered underdog a redemptive bone.—Keith Uhlich
See also “Corner man”