clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Reviews for 'Tyson' pouring in

New, comments

3266103_0_jpg_medium James Toback's documentary film Tyson is receiving positive reviews by the bushel. It stands at 87% on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing.

Not all are positive though. Here's a round-up of some of my favorite reviews, most good, some bad.

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times:


James Toback's "Tyson" is a documentary with no pretense of objectivity. Here is Mike Tyson's story in his own words, and it is surprisingly persuasive. He speaks openly and with apparent honesty about a lifetime during which, he believes, he was often misunderstood. From a broken family, he was in trouble at a tender age and always felt vulnerable; his childhood self is still echoed in his lisp, as high-pitched as a child's. It's as if the victim of big kids is still speaking to us from within the intimidating form of perhaps the most punishing heavyweight champion of them all.

Amy Nicholson, Inland Empire Weekly:

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.

James Verniere, Boston Herald:


Tyson’s mangled vocabulary can be strangely poetic, but an angry, on-camera outburst is a damning litany of sociopathic rage. As much as we love the myth of the boxer’s redemption, we’re stuck with this real-life train wreck. But Toback’s film also reminds us of the scene in “Raging Bull” in which Jake LaMotta bellows the words, “I’m not an animal,” just when we think we’re sure he is.

Nick Canepa, San Diego Union-Tribune:

“I was intrigued with sex,” he says. “My mother was promiscuous. . . . I like a strong woman; I want to dominate her sexually.”

The documentary is interspersed with scenes from the fighter's broken, troubled youth as a street thug and thief in Brooklyn; to his happy pugilistic education under famed trainer Cus D'Amato, who pulled Tyson out of jail into his Catskills mansion; to his rise as the youngest heavyweight champion (through exquisitely brutal fight footage); to his imprisonment for rape and historic collapse against Buster Douglas; to his ill-fated partnerships with promoter Don King (“He'd kill his mother for a dollar”) and wife Robin Givens (“I was being a pig; she didn't like that”); to his pathetic, desperate ear-chewing of Evander Holyfield; to what he is in 2009: a vulnerable, broken 42-year-old man, basically broke.

Kenneth Turan, Chicago Tribune:

"Tyson" starts with clips from the 1986 victory over Trevor Berbick that made him, at just 20, the youngest heavyweight champion ever. Actually, the word "victory" doesn't begin to do justice to Tyson's savagery in the ring. He takes Berbick apart with a ferocity that is almost terrifying, a ferocity that led to knockout victories in his first 19 bouts.

What we see in "Tyson," however, is anunexpected side of that person, a more thoughtful, introspective aspect of someone who clearly means it when he says he never thought he'd live to be 40 (he'll be 43 in June).

Tyson's childhood memories are the most moving and memorable parts of the film. His depiction of being brutalized in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn are quite something, as are his tears when he recalls how his fears of being bullied were essential in driving him forward.

Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger:

He was convicted of rape in 1992 and spent three years in prison. On camera now, he angrily declares his innocence, calling his accuser "that wretched swine of a woman."

His insistence soon rings a little hollow ("I may have taken advantage of women before, but I never took advantage of her.") When he talks about women -- "I want to ravish them," "I want to dominate them sexually" -- it's in the language of aggression, not affection.

Yet Tyson still thinks he's a good guy -- more sinned against then sinning, brought down by "leeches."

By only interviewing Tyson, Toback lets him get away with it, too. Do Tyson's ex-wives have anything pertinent to add? Does Evander Holyfield, perhaps, have a differing point of view? It's a good bet -- but you won't find them here, except in old film clips.

Dana Stevens, Slate:

James Toback has hit pay dirt in one sense at least: For all his moral blind spots, Mike Tyson is a mesmerizing interview subject. He's as impossible to stop watching as a bonfire or a raging sea. Tyson can wax analytical when he chooses—he provides a remarkably detailed description of his sexual tastes, which involve a precise admixture of domination and submission. His vocabulary is a blend of formal, high-register language (skullduggery is a favorite word, as in "I know the art of skullduggery") and lacerating streams of profane invective (boxing promoter Don King is a "wretched, slimy, reptilian motherf***er," and a fan who dares heckle Tyson at a 1995 press conference is repaid with an impressively creative torrent of obscenities). After 88 minutes in Tyson's head, I was drained, and he's been trapped in there for 42 years. Consider my skull dug.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:


Toback's film shows Tyson as a mass of contradictions. As a kid mocked for his high voice and lisp, Tyson admits he was afraid to fight back. When he learned, he couldn't stop: "I knew no one was ever going to fuck with me again." The champ's eyes well up just talking about Cus D'Amato, the trainer who treated this juvie like a member of the family. D'Amato, who died before his protègè won his first title, taught Tyson to smell fear in his opponent and go in for the kill. D'Amato's death sent Tyson into a world of excess. But it was his three-year prison stretch that brought him close to madness.

It's madness that links Tyson and Toback. They're both extremists. Tyson, a convert to Islam who knows his life is still a mystery, takes his hard line in the ring. Toback, having barely survived an LSD binge, shows his in rule-busting films like Fingers and Black and White, in which Toback directed Robert Downey Jr. to come on to Tyson, as himself, and goad the champ into a rage. It worked. Tyson and Toback are both goading each other in this movie. Let them call it a documentary. I'd call it a world-class exhibition of punch-drunk love.

Jay Antani, Filmcritic:


For its stylistic and psychological ambitions, Tyson is an easy enough film to appreciate, but not an easy film to embrace. Toback intends to humanize his subject, to distill the "real" Tyson from the media distortions, but something about this exercise feels disingenuous and, worse yet, rife with sports-movie clichés. Were it not for Toback's inventive filmmaking, Tyson's interview -- his insistence on explaining himself, to express remorse for his past and readiness to live cleanly from here on out -- smacks of self-promotion. Parts of Tyson feel, almost amusingly, like a trumped-up infomercial for the man, meant to brighten his public image.