The latest view of Mike Tyson, in “Tyson” — a documentary by James Toback (“Black and White”) — is not so new. It is Tyson's own. “Mike on Mike” would have been a good title, too, as Tyson, long since retired after becoming the youngest heavyweight champ at 20, reflects on his life and career, mostly hitting the highlights and lowlights that have come to define him in the public eye. He also talks about what was going on behind the scenes, and often the conflict between the two points of view is more revealing than what Tyson and Toback might have intended.
Take just two scenes. The first one is old footage of Tyson and then-wife, actress Robin Givens, in the infamous 1988 “20/20” interview with Barbara Walters. In it Givens calls life with Tyson “pure hell” and questions the fighter's psychological well-being. Sitting next to her, the young Tyson looks frozen, only his eyes darting, as we hear the contemporary man in voice-over explain the sense of betrayal he felt at the time. According to Tyson, whose presence in the film makes it seem at times like he's profiling himself, he remained completely silent so as not to give what he thought the media wanted, a scene of him tearing the place apart.
Such was not his decision years later, in a similar moment, when, recently released from prison after serving time for a rape conviction, Tyson verbally tears into an off-screen heckler at a news conference with the frightening ferocity he once displayed in the ring. It's a tirade, freakishly obscene. Obviously Tyson was at different points in his life in these two instances. But the question, never broached by the film, is whether his only options were the ones before us, to remain silent or have a heavyweight hissy fit.
Rather than detail the record of a man who somehow (reputedly) managed to turn about $300 million in earnings into eventual bankruptcy and infamy, “Tyson” paints in broad strokes. It focuses on Tyson's feelings about his life story, even though the film was completed before the recent death of the former fighter's 4-year-old daughter. It's compelling to get Mike Tyson's point of view, and to see a sometimes vulnerable person beneath the scary tattoos and bulging frame. But “Tyson” is an incomplete account. There's enough violence and conflict roiling under that surface to suggest our guide still doesn't know himself as much as he'd like. (R) 90 min. HHIIIS