But because this is a documentary, bias, or rather, manipulation of real life is inevitable. That doesn't mean that Tyson isn't fascinating to watch, especially in its fever dream sequences where the former heavyweight champ struggles to enunciate through free associations on women, love, childhood, and loss. Toback does his best to match the scatterbrain monologues of Tyson by split screening the hell out of the boxer's iconic face (his eyelids heavy as if they are about to close permanently from the weight of his life). It's as if Toback is trying to find a visual rhythm that can walk in step with the machinations inside Tyson's brain yet he keeps having to hit the reset button.
If Tyson had solely consisted of Mike Tyson's unedited and extended ramblings laid atop looping montages of his life and career, then Toback's film might have approached greatness, defying documentary convention and applying a fresh way to present non-fictional material. But, sadly, Toback bends to regular bio-doc storytelling, giving us the arch of Mike Tyson's life and the replayed highlights of his pay-per-view career so that we may attempt to "understand" this man. But that's an impossible request to make of an audience when all you have in tow is 90 minutes of tricked-up celluloid to state your case. Sure, go ahead and toss Tyson in as another useful tool for research into the troubled man's life, but a work of cinematic portraiture art this is not.
Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler does a finer job than Tyson of culling emotion and humanity from the behind-the-scenes life of muscle bound glamour and big man sports, a subculture that Mike Tyson was a part of for the majority of his life. In The Wrestler, seeing the fictional Randy "The Ram" Robinson play with the Nintendo version of himself was a profound moment of a broken man facing down his legacy of becoming nothing more than an 8-bit afterthought after living a life of hedonistic hero worship. (Indeed, that particular scene made me think of Mike Tyson's Punch Out and wonder if the real Tyson ever stared at that video game with fondness and regret the way Ram does.)
In Toback's narrative films, there is typically a surrogate male character that espouses the deeply flawed, imperfect philosophies and ideals that the director sees in himself. Because these men are fictional stand-ins (Jimmy in Fingers, Jack in The Pick-Up Artist, Blake in Two Girls and a Guy) there is greater freedom for Toback the artist to self-examine, yet still entertain, without coming off as a narcissist doing confessionals for the camera. Tyson shows that Toback is still obsessed with the hyper-sexualized flawed man inside (Mike Tyson could be his stand-in), but with that fourth-wall now being torn down, the director's artistic argument isn't as compelling.