Ever wanted to get caught in a stare-down contest with Mike Tyson? Well, that's pretty much the effect of this absolutely gripping documentary; the conflicted and infamous fighter eyeballs the camera like it's an opponent at weigh-in. Yet those dark, beady orbs contain galaxies of rage, regret and wounded pride, as Iron Mike recounts his wild lifetime of brawling, drug abuse, womanizing and general bad behavior with remarkable candor, insight and something resembling grace.
There's also his oft-parodied soft, trembling lisp, a singsong cadence that lulls you in even as the boxer shovels mountains of bullshit on top of you while digging for forgiveness.
The film recalls a thieving, wasted youth on Brooklyn street corners, running with gangs and living in fear of another beating from one of the bigger bullies on the block. That abuse culminated in some kid brutally killing one of Tyson's pet pigeons, an act that drove the future pugilist to deliver his first beat-down, which opened a path for him. Like Muhammad Ali's stolen bicycle, the pigeon was the catalyst to change a shy boy to an unstoppable boxer, under the fatherly guidance of trainer Cus D'Amato. The unloved child became a man under D'Amato, thriving on the elder's tutelage and friendship, transformed into a knockout machine, a world heavyweight champ by age 20.
In his prime, Tyson was considered a wrecking ball, a physical powerhouse who overwhelmed opponents with sheer force.
He was too much for fighters to handle, as much as the mania around him was too much for the sensitive kid inside to handle; he got swallowed up by fame, money and women, always the women.
If Tyson appears generally remorseful about his brief, tabloid-stricken marriage to actress Robin Givens ("We were too young"), he seems as incapable of understanding the stormy romance 20 years later — as dumbstruck as he was sitting silently as Givens berated him in front of Barbara Walters and the whole world on TV.
He's not so shy on other topics: He's still full of venom for his rape accuser Desiree Washington, and for the nefarious promoter Don King, who bilked him out of untold millions.
The prison term and bad management did help derail his once dominant career, but Tyson is smart enough to know that his most lethal foe was always himself, and in presenting his demons so nakedly he might not achieve absolution but at least understanding.
Opens Friday, May 15, at the Uptown Palladium 2, 250 N. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-644-3456.
Opens Friday, May 15, at the Birmingham 8, 211 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-644-3456.