Sundance 2009 Review: James Toback's Tyson
by Alex Billington
January 16, 2009
I'm not the biggest fan of documentaries so going into Tyson I was admittedly nervous that it'd be a very unforgettable film. While it wasn't exactly unforgettable, it wasn't that spectacular, and felt like of a documentary I'd catch on HBO rather than in theaters. That's not a compliment, but I still did appreciate director James Toback's very intimate look at the boxer Mike Tyson because of how personal it was. Toback and Tyson are friends and he was able to get him to open up to the camera in a way only a very close friend could. It was worth seeing if only to get an understanding of Mike Tyson that I didn't have before.
Tyson covers a fairly comprehensive amount of his life history and boxing career. Although the running time is only 90 minutes, it felt fairly long, just because Tyson's actual boxing career began in 1985 and ended in 2005. And considering Toback, and especially Tyson, don't hold back on any of the down and dirty details, we get to hear about all of the ups and downs in his life over the years. It all began when he was being picked on as a young kid and progresses through his success as a boxer, marriages and divorces, and prison sentences. Tyson isn't exactly the most compelling guy, but this at least made him interesting to watch.
The problem with Tyson is that it's far too much of a talking heads film. To make his interviews actually entertaining to watch, Toback tries to use a split screen structure that just doesn't work at all. The film only features interviews with Tyson himself, which I thought was initially a smart move to make it much more personal, but it becomes a hindrance with Tyson's convoluted storytelling. He is only exciting to watch speak a few times, primarily when he gets emotional and starts to tear up, but after that, I just wanted to see more of his fights. In the end, it's probably not a documentary I'll ever think about much again.
Sundance Rating: 5 out of 10