Tyson James Toback

Tyson James Toback
I usually come out of a documentary with a solidly formed opinion of its protagonist. Mike Tyson, however, eludes pigeonholing. In Tyson, James Toback's revealing, engrossing documentary about the heavyweight champion's life, he addresses the camera in a 90-minute monologue that ranges from enlightening to frustrating, pathetic and sometimes even likeable. He can be amazingly astute in his self-analysis and then blindsides us with a scorching insult, an irresponsible statement or even a mispronunciation of an everyday word. We follow Tyson as he goes from a put-upon ghetto survivor to a fearsome champion under the tutelage of Cus D'Amato, as well as his failed marriages, his rape conviction (the most disturbing passage of the film) and the embarrassingly feeble end of his boxing career. Rarely is a documentary filmmaker this perfectly matched with his subject. Like Tyson, director James Toback is a survivor, known for his gambling addiction, drug use and outlandish womanizing. Both Tyson and Toback have seen their fortunes rise and fall, and both their careers have often been overshadowed by their colourful personal lives. Is the film biased? Of course it is. You pay to see Tyson's side of the story, and that's what you get. Is some of what Tyson says dubious-sounding or sketchily detailed? Sure, but Toback trusts us to use our judgment. He even punctuates the film with impressionistic passages where Tyson's image and words are looped over one another, as if to illustrate the conflicting nature of his personality. Tyson is not the final word on Mike Tyson but it is Mike Tyson's final word, and Toback brilliantly succeeds in getting into his head. The fool, the disciplinarian, the scoundrel and the intellectual exist side-by-side, and seeing Tyson freed of the "heavyweight champion" hype of yesteryear and the "ear-chomping has-been" scorn of today, you might find he's not so different from you or me. Warts and all, Mike Tyson is a man. DVD extras include an audio commentary by Toback, "A Day With James Toback" featurette and an interview with Toback on Tyson, but the rumoured deleted scenes are disappointingly absent. (Sony)