In the ring, boxer Mike Tyson was flat-out terrifying, his lightning-fast limbs corded like banyan trees, his face a lumpy, horrifying mask of endless hate. But in the end, "Kid Dynamite," the WBA Heavyweight Champion of the World, blew himself up. It's a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare, or at least Hollywood. James Toback's riveting documentary Tyson is one for the books, too. The filmmaker, who is something of a maverick himself, traces Tyson's history from tubby Brooklyn hooligan to his fateful alliance with legendary trainer Constantine "Cus" D'Amato and beyond.
D'Amato shepherded the big lug out of the reformatory and into the ring and then spent the rest of his life honing Tyson's will to power into a thing of ghastly beauty. But then the elderly Cus expired, and Tyson went off the rails. You probably know the rest: drugs, booze, women, three years in a federal pen on a rape conviction, and the career-ending chomping of Evander Holyfield's ear during the pair's rematch in 1997. It was all downhill from there, and just like Tyson's fighting style, it was anything but graceful.
Toback, a longtime friend of the fighter, gets Tyson to open up all the way, and the result is not one of revulsion but of pity. Sure, Tyson brought it all on himself - the frightening resolve he displayed in the ring was nowhere to be found once he stepped out of it - but sitting for Toback, recalling his life from cradle to near-grave, the fighter comes across more tin man than iron man. Stylistically, Toback scrambles the screen during the one-on-one interview segments; elsewhere, he cuts to archival footage of Tyson's big moments, often with Tyson commenting in voiceover.
It's brutal to watch the bigger-they-are-the-harder-they-fall tragedy of this once-great heavyweight. In fact, it's enough to make you cry.