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Tyson (2008) DVD/BD

Old 12-21-08, 04:40 AM
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Tyson (2008) DVD/BD

UK-based distribs Revolver Entertainment are set to release James Toback's Tyson (2008) on March 30th. Winner of the Regard Knockout Award at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Andrew O'Hehir:
CANNES, France -- "This is way above my level. I'm a little intimidated," said the man on the stage, clearly emotional as he addressed the crowd in the Théâtre Debussy who had just greeted his arrival with a standing ovation. "I've never experienced anything like this in my entire life. Thank you all so much for coming."

Experimental filmmaker from Azerbaijan? Subject of a wrenching family documentary made in a remote Colombian village? No and no. The speaker was former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, given a hero's welcome here for the premiere of "Tyson," the documentary about his life made by American movie maverick James Toback. On one level the reaction seemed bizarre; as Toback's film makes clear Tyson spent his entire athletic career psyching out opposing fighters and the public. But when I talked about it later over drinks with a few other critics, it dawned on us that Tyson has never before faced a crowd that was cheering for him as a person, rather than because they wanted to see him beat the living crap out of somebody.

The question of whether Tyson should be treated as a hero, in Cannes or anywhere else, is irrelevant to this festival, and also to Toback's film. Immense fame is amoral at its core, and so is the Festival de Cannes. Tyson has survived huge success and a dramatic fall, has endured the suffering he inflicted on others and on himself. Here he is, formerly a boxer of terrifying ferocity and an inordinately wealthy man and now neither of those things but not quite an ordinary middle-aged retired athlete either. That was enough for the Friday night crowd in the Debussy.

"Tyson" was one of the hottest tickets at Cannes so far, which may just reflect the fact that its subject is a worldwide icon whose meteoric career trajectory already seems ready for the movies. It combines Tyson's remarkably candid interviews with Toback with a quickie biopic that covers Tyson's life from his childhood in the crime-ridden Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood of Brownsville to his blossoming as a fighter under trainer Cus D'Amato (who virtually adopted him), two stints as the heavyweight champion, three years in prison and beyond.

Toback told us before the screening that he wanted to capture Tyson as a "complicated and in many ways noble human being." One can dispute the adjectives, but he certainly succeeds in rendering a man frequently depicted as an almost animalistic stereotype of African-American manhood as a tortured and vulnerable person who has genuinely struggled to understand his flaws. For the most part Tyson discusses his failings frankly and with a striking degree of insight, but he still refuses to admit any wrongdoing in the 1991 rape case that sent him to prison, and has no idea how much money he has made and lost (at least $300 million, and conceivably much more). Tyson recently filed for bankruptcy, but my guess is his money's no good here this weekend. (Since he's both a Muslim and a 12-stepper these days, the rosé is officially off limits.)
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