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Tyson (1995)

Airing a month after Mike Tyson was released from prison following his rape conviction, this biopic pulls few punches in its depiction of the former heavyweight boxing champion. From troubled youth to ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’, the only times Tyson is portrayed in a sympathetic light is in his interactions with mentor Cus D’Amato, manager Jim Jacobs, and his pigeons. Elsewhere he is seen shooting at youths, harassing women, terrorising shopkeepers, bashing sparring partners and just generally being a surly badass from whom you’d cross the street to avoid. Put him in a ring though and people would flock to see him.

Recognising the young boxer before him as someone who ’hits with bad intentions’, legendary trainer Cus D’Amato puts aside concerns about the 12-year-old’s criminal record and takes him into his care. He provides Tyson with a room in his house, an inspirational quote before bed and a father-figure the boxer had hitherto lacked. However, Tyson’s new-found discipline only extends as far as the square ring’s ropes and even that falls by the wayside when D’Amato dies.  An ill-fated marriage to actress Robin Givens coupled with the recent death of Jim Jacobs leaves the boxer vulnerable to the machinations of boxing promoter Don King.

A strong cast elevates this biopic which, like its title character in his prime, keeps moving purposefully forward. Michael Jai White is not only physically right as Mike Tyson, he also perfects the boxer’s voice and intimidatory nature. Veteran George C. Scott is perfect as the cantankerous but soft-hearted Cus D’Amato while Paul Winfield has a lot of fun in his role as Don King. Tony Lo Bianco and James Sikking also feature as Tyson’s managers who school him in the history of boxing, with Clark Gregg and Holt McCallany rounding out Tyson’s team as trainers Kevin Rooney and Teddy Atlas.

There are few revelations in this biopic, the trainwreck that was Tyson’s life at that time was well known before this dramatisation. What is surprising, refreshingly so, is the restraint the filmmakers show in this straightforward portrayal of a man whose greatest foe was himself.

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film review, biopic
Michael Jai White, Mike Tyson, Kristen Wilson, Robin Givens, Tony Lo Bianco
Jerry Schilling, Olivia DeJonge, Priscilla Presley, Kelvin Harrison Jr, B.B. King

Mike Tyson could not have learned of Jim Jacob’s death on his wedding day, as Jacobs died the following month.

Bill Cayton did not discuss Don King’s business offer with Mike Tyson at Jim Jacobs' funeral.

"I never did that, and never would. I didn't see the final script. That was appalling."

Bill Cayton

Jim Jacobs, James Sikking, Bill Cayton, Holt McCallany, Teddy Atlas

Biopic ends before Mike Tyson started appearing in films.

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