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James Toback’s Tyson.

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Tyson is a men’s film. That doesn’t mean women won’t like it or that it’s rife with self-justifying bro-talk, just that it’s a 90-minute dive into male psychology warts and all, with a radical disinterest in apologizing or softening much. You gotta come to Tyson, Tyson doesn’t come to you.

The movie’s “masculine” the way Peckinpah films are masculine–indeed, Toback’s multi-screen effects seem a homage to Peckinpah’s opening credit sequences–in that they’re really figuring out and working through the reality of being a typical male, concerned with issues of dominance, regret, paranoia, revenge, and love, and how all of them usurp and feed one another.

In one of those Peckinpah-ish interludes, Toback stacks image upon image and snippets of audio atop itself as Tyson talks real frankly about his attraction to “strong women” that he will then dominate, the joy he gets when a girl tells him, or he tells them “No”, and his want to provide love but receive none in return. For those remain upset because the movie doesn’t dive deeply into Tyson’s rape conviction, all you need to know or think or feel’s right there, short of Tyson providing some kind of “confession”–which he won’t because it’s clear he doesn’t feel he raped anybody.

Toback takes Tyson’s life and spins an ethical reevaluation of events, not towards some apologia for Iron Mike, but because well, we’ve been swimming around in all the reasons Tyson’s a violent fuck-up rapist for twenty years now and Tyson’s the first to take most of the blame for most everything he’s done anyway. And so, the movie takes quiet aim at those like, slept-on villains in Tyson’s life, with a deep disgust towards their hypocrisy and manipulation. Note, it isn’t Tyson who does this so much, as it is Toback.

The ear-biting incident is recounted with Tyson still expressing no remorse for his actions, but you leave the anecdote realizing Holyfield wasn’t exactly playing fair either, and there’s even a hard-headed respect given to Tyson for going all the way with his lack of ethics. Despite Tyson expressing nothing but goodwill and respect towards ex-wife Robin Givens, those clips from the bizarro Barbara Walters interview/publicity stunt where she talks about how much of a mess he is, right in front of him, are stomach-churning, more because Givens is really selling it than because Tyson’s a nightmare husband.

As Tyson wisely points out, Walters and Givens were waiting for him to freak-out, to scream, and throw things and he didn’t. That’s a key part of the movie–especially as “man’s movie”–because the reason Tyson didn’t freak-out wasn’t because it was a bad idea, but because it’s what they wanted him to do and to give in would be another way he’d be dominated.

The concern for Tyson is things be done on his own terms, that he believe the sequence of events to be authentic or sincere, and its why, upon the joke of a fight with Kevin McBride, he first announces he’s not gonna fight anymore, feels the room out, admits he just doesn’t have it in him anymore, verballs throws his hands-up like “What am I doing”, and then just confesses that he fought to pay his bills. Those are not the actions of someone concerned with how they look, but rather someone who wants the opportunity to breakdown when they want to breakdown…and that’s why Toback’s decision to hyper-subjectivize Tyson is not only a good idea, but the only way the movie could’ve been made.

There’s a few points where Tyson chokes-up and cries, most notably when he speaks on the death of his first trainer, fathe-figure, and only dude that ever gave much of a fuck about him, Cus D’Amato, but Tyson really tears-up (as did I) when he describes the point in his life where he realized no one would ever physically take advantage of him again, that he not only had the capacity to destroy but the will and physicality to do so.

Tyson’s weeping because he achieved something powerful rooted in childhood trauma (severe bullying) but also because he’s fully aware of the damage he can cause and it weighs heavy on him. The first cry is emotional but also typical, the second is Tyson crying from some odd awkward mix of joy from accomplishment and some deep fear of his own power. That’s “men stuff” and it’s the kind of thing that’s not exactly P.C or fun to base movies around, but it’s vital and it’s what’s racing through every frame of Tyson.

Written by Brandon

May 19th, 2009 at 9:52 pm