Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Boxing films that take time to step outside the ring are all the rage at the moment, from John Dower’s Joe Frazier-centric Thriller In Manila to this intimate documentary by James Toback and, watching either film, one thing is for sure - you had better put away your preconceptions.

Toback asks to get more up close and personal with Iron Mike than you ever dreamed possible and, like the heavyweight prize-fighter in his prime, this is documentary stripped back to its leanest form.

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The film is shaped around a series of revealing one-on-one interviews with the boxer himself, shot squarely in hugging close-ups, showing Tyson ‘the man’ is clearly a much more complex human being than the received idea of Tyson ‘the boxer’ might lead you to believe. Whether you think he is a villain (he served a jail term for rape and his biting of Evander Holyfield’s ear is well-documented) or a hero, is largely irrelevant to your enjoyment of this film, although I dare say he is going to win over a few waverers in the process.

This is Tyson on Tyson but, perhaps surprisingly, he doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to talking about himself. He reveals his early life was marred by bullying that, on a fateful day which saw the demise of his beloved pigeons, led to him getting into – and winning – a fight for the first time. It is the emotion of fear that seems to have driven him hard all his life. He mentions it frequently, and talks a surprising amount about being “afraid”, “scared” and “nervous”. Cynics might suggest this is what has prompted him, even, to make this film – a fear he is slipping out of the public eye, a concern that he will only be remembered for ill deeds or, possibly, a cold sweat about his current lack of cash flow. Those in Mike’s corner would no doubt argue that he simply wants to set the record straight and exorcise a few demons while he’s at it.

Whatever the reasons, Tyson is fiercely candid about his own shortcomings and it seems he doesn’t need a slew of detractors to help put himself in perspective. He talks about his regrets and immaturity during his time with Robin Givens, losing his head against Holyfield and speaks openly about the sleeping around which cost him his marriages. He is also surprisingly erudite and open about his emotions, particularly when it comes to talking about his early mentor Cus D'Amato.

Interspersed with the interviews – which are sometimes cross-cut against themselves in a manner which is more affected than effective – is footage from his early career, TV ‘fame’ and later bouts. The end result is undoubtedly revealing but the pared away nature of the editing – which focuses for long periods simply on Tyson himself – may not be enough for die-hard boxing fans looking for an insight into the action of his career. Similarly, many may be left disappointed that there is no voice here other than Tyson’s, and by extension, Toback’s, to help add a more rounded dimension.

Ultimately, though engaging enough, it lacks enough real cinematic punch to be a draw to the multiplex, though it would be perfectly suited for the smaller screen.

Reviewed on: 03 Feb 2009
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Intimate portrait of the heavyweight boxer.
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Director: James Toback

Writer: James Toback

Starring: Mike Tyson

Year: 2008

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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