For children of the '80s, there's never been an athlete who captured the imagination quite like
The film is less a critical study and more a window into the former champ's tortured psyche. The lone talking head in the piece belongs to Tyson himself, an immediate red flag to those in search of journalistic scrutiny. But the director enables no revisionist history, and neither romanticizes nor demonizes his subject. Toback's work, instead, consists of lush, restored archival footage interspersed with Tyson's lengthy, poignant self-interrogation.
The end product is extraordinary filmmaking -- the finest documentary on the sweet science since
Through tight, intimate shots, Tyson recounts the fear that drove him into his first fist-fight as a bullied doughboy in 1970s Brooklyn, after a neighborhood kid pulled off the head from one of his pet pigeons. "That's why people like myself become more assertive in life and become more aggressive," Tyson reasoned. "They don't want to be humiliated."
What follows is a chronological account of his delinquent Brownsville upbringing (under a "promiscuous" mother), his teenage years in juvie detention centers, his monastic apprenticeship and reform at
And the long way down.
One can't help but feel a chill of pathos when
The plot points of Tyson's meteoric rise and corrosive decline are well-known. But it's his disarming candor and mature perspective that lend new insight to familiar details, like his explanation of the infamous ear-biting incident ("chaos of the brain") and the duality of his famous pre-fight intimidation tactics ("When I come out [to the ring] I have supreme confidence, but I'm scared to death," Tyson said. "I'm afraid of everything, I'm afraid of losing, I'm afraid of being humiliated, but I was totally confident.")
Particularly moving are a series of never-before-seen interviews from the film's first act with D'Amato, the surrogate father responsible for Tyson's storybook transformation from street brawler to world champion through their precious common trust.
Tyson's last fight, against journeyman