December 29, 2009

Justify My Netflix: Tyson (2009)

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Tyson (2009)

Today's movie: Tyson, 2009 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

The story in a nutshell: A rare documentary from feature film director James Toback, Tyson is essentially a "talking head" biography of his longtime buddy Mike Tyson, with Toback basically sitting the infamous boxer in front of a camera for hours on end and simply letting him talk and talk about his trainwreck of a life, from his unstoppable rise in the 1980s to his jail time and bankruptcy in the '90s and '00s, and his struggles now as a religious family man desperately trying to come to grips with his monstrous past. This is sometimes cut with old video footage illustrating the events he is discussing; but other than this, the movie is mostly Tyson himself as a middle-ager simply sitting in a chair and talking, with Toback wisely understanding that the natural drama of such monologues would far outweigh whatever visual pyrotechnics he might add.

What I thought: Oh, so freaking fascinating. And the key of course is that Tyson is an old friend of Toback's, so is comfortable enough to completely lower his guard when conversing with him on-camera about his life; and this reveals what Toback obviously already knew, that Mike Tyson turns out to be a surprisingly complex and haunted creature, a bombastic personality comprised of equal parts arrogance and self-loathing, who can be painfully self-aware when it comes to some subjects and blissfully ignorant when it comes to others. Just to cite one of a dozen great examples, it's riveting to watch the inherently hypocritical way he looks now on his past as an abuser of women, both acknowledging his own culpability in the situations and displaying a barely-concealed violent disgust for the various women he's been accused of beating over the years, a complicated look at how sex, power, money and a sadomasochistic attitude about romance mingled together in his godlike youth to produce such behavior in the first place. By the end it not only adds up to one of the most interesting biographical sketches ever filmed, but also serves as a nice metaphor for the entire so-called "Reagan Era" in general, from the naked drunken greed of the '80s to the painful hangover of the '90s, to the eventual crash-and-burn repercussions of this hubris experienced during the Bush '00s. Tyson is a veritable poster-child for everything that's gone wrong in the United States in the last thirty years; this alone justifies just about anyone checking out this surprisingly intense documentary, no matter what you think of Tyson himself or how much your interest is in boxing.

Strangest piece of trivia: Toback shot over thirty hours of interviews to make this movie. After watching the final cut for the first time, Tyson himself was reportedly silent for a moment, then apparently said, "It's like a Greek tragedy, only I'm the subject."

Worth your time? Absolutely

Filed by Jason Pettus at 1:15 PM, December 29, 2009. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |