Friday, November 06, 2009
The harder they fall
By Edward Copeland
As documentary filmmaking became more and more interesting, and profitable, in the past few decades, the more old-fashioned "talking head" documentary tends to be a subject of mockery, but that is more or less the form director James Toback uses in his film, though he only has one head and it is a large and recognizable one: Mike Tyson, who is surprisingly self-critical and open as he gives a first-person recounting of his rise and fall in Tyson.
Toback tries to shake things up at time, almost to the point of distraction, with split screens which work fine when one shot is Tyson today and the other is other footage but which seems silly when the screen is filmed with three or four different shots of Tyson speaking to the camera at the same time.
That's a minor criticism though for what proves to be a surprisingly compelling film. Granted, this only contains Tyson's viewpoint, so there aren't any other witnesses to the events to back him up or disagree, but Tyson is so open to admitting his own flaws, that it almost feels unnecessary.
I've never had much of an interest in boxing and while this is certainly no When We Were Kings, it is fascinating to hear Tyson explain what would prompt someone to bit another boxer's ear off. The tale overall is a bit of a sad one and you can't help but think that if his original manager Cus D'Amato had lived a bit longer, perhaps Tyson would have been able to avoid the inevitable fall since D'Amato definitely kept him grounded and focused.
The documentary doesn't miss any of the tabloid moments that surrounded the former heavyweight champ though when he speaks of his rape conviction, he puts most of the blame squarely on the accuser. I have no way of knowing what happened in the hotel room but I remember at the time that his trial happened in the same time period as William Kennedy Smith's rape trial and the two were such a study and what the difference in having good defense lawyers make. At the time, I remember Tyson's lawyers basically saying, "She had it coming because she went back to his room" and painting him as a monster, yet in the documentary, Tyson never gives it to his lawyers.
Still, you ultimately feel sympathy for an athlete who had so much skill at what he did, made a fortune and then squandered most of it, including his love for the sport, though at least he seems to find some kind of peace as a family man now, even though he still seems as if he's a man-child more than someone in his 40s.