I can still hear the words of the TV news producer as I was heading out to interview the new, sensationally talented heavyweight, Mike Tyson.
“This guy will be dead before he’s 30.”
See Mike Tyson in James Toback’s “Tyson” and you will wonder how he has managed to keep himself alive. Now, with the death of his daughter, you may wonder whether Mike Tyson is once more being tested by the gods of fate, a fixed figure of scorn, a reptilian creature with the mug and skull of a Cro-Magnon man.
You may find yourself perplexed, wondering how to regard this force of fury, because, as presented here, Tyson is a complex presence. A poet with the soul of a killer or a tender boy turned into a lethal, brutish force by his Brooklyn environment. It is possible both versions are true.
DIRECTED BY James Toback
SCREENPLAY BY James Toback
STARRING Mike Tyson
RUNNING TIME 90 minutes
Tyson found a father figure in Catskill with the legendary trainer Cus D’Amato, only to lose the only man who loved him at a critical juncture in his career. Now we are confronting a Tyson forced to fend for himself — a babe in the woods, a magnificent warrior thrust into a den of thieves and con artists — some in Albany, where once he was ordered by a judge to mount a boxing exhibition for speeding down Central Avenue at 95 mph.
I was there at ringside. This close. I felt the force, the fury.
Unless you choose to regard “Tyson” as a total con job, and I do not, this documentary is a remarkable film. It dares to tell the truths many mothers do not want to hear about their sons. One is that when his fury is unleashed, living in a world without emotional protection, a boy with a gentle soul can go haywire.
Men know this dark secret locked in their gut. The distance between a gentle soul and a furious force of wild, bestial fury is not that great.
Dostoevsky recognized this truth and its converse: That at the moment a man is about to surrender to the demons within, he may kick his heels to heaven and find God. But not before he has the guts to hit bottom. Most of us guys forge protections to avert the beast within.
The Mike Tyson we meet here does not arm himself with the usual protections, perhaps because he cannot. No doubt his behavior can be reprehensible.
We also may recognize that he has the qualities we can associate with the lamb of peace. That he was perhaps unfairly judged. No, better yet, unfairly summed up as a brute.
Tyson tells his story, and I believe him when he talks about himself as a loner, a boy raising birds, a budding St. Francis who really did not want to fight, never mind become one of the great pugilists in the history of the world.
The redeeming value of “Tyson” is its entrée into the mind of a wild man, a furious force of nature.
In the final moments, we hear him breathe heavily. Interpret this scene yourselves. I dare not intrude. If you are a mother, try to see this movie.
Mike Tyson could be your son.
Reach Gazette Film Critic Dan DiNicola at [email protected]