In the mid-1980s, it seemed that almost every week Mike Tyson was on TV knocking down, and occasionally knocking out, opponents. Relatively short for a boxing heavyweight and always wearing the same understated black trunks, it was Tyson’s pre-fight glares and his awesome speed and power that quickly built his reputation as one of the sport’s finest exponents. Within 18 months of his professional debut he was champion of the world, aged just 20 years and four months.
Tyson the movie combines archive footage and the man himself telling his life story to camera. It’s a simple approach but, some self-consciously flashy editing aside, it works because the subject matter is so enthralling. Starting with his life in the ghettos of New York, Tyson recalls his troubled youth which ended with him in a correctional facility. Ironically, it was this move that led to him take up boxing and where he met his trainer and mentor Cus D’Amato.
Even for a casual boxing fan, the highlights of the fights themselves are thrilling, while Tyson’s confessions – for that’s what this soon becomes, a confessional – are fascinating. He reveals himself wholly and although not always the most eloquent raconteur, Tyson is funny and never less than brutally honest. As it turns out, becoming the youngest world heavyweight champion ever was just about the worst thing that could have happened to him and D’Amato’s death proved to be a pivotal moment in Tyson’s life and career. At one point, a boxing commentator wonders aloud just who on earth can beat Mike Tyson and in the end, it’s clear that the answer was Tyson himself. A moving portrayal of a deeply flawed man but a hugely talented boxer.