The team behind “I, Tonya” deliver an unconvincing exercise in self-examination in their boxing biopic that’s more recycled than insightful.
“Mike” has blood, sweat and probably a few tears spurting from the faces of Mike Tyson’s opponents in the ring. One by one, they are hit by his explosive left hook, their cheeks bouncing off their jaws before dramatically falling to the ground. Hulu’s limited series, helmed by Steven Rogers and Craig Gillespie (the writer and director of I, Tonya respectively), slows down these moments to show the physical effects of Tyson’s superhuman strength on the body. This sheer power, coupled with an unwavering dedication to the art of boxing, made him the youngest heavyweight champion in the world in 1986 at just 20 years old, catapulting him into history and pop culture fame.
Presented largely as an exercise in self-examination, ‘Mike’ begins with Tyson preparing to take the stage and recount the events of his own turbulent life, from his rise to stardom as a boxing prodigy straight out of juvenile detention, into his dramatic filming and pivot to the convicted rapist at the height of his career. This would be an intriguing framing device if it weren’t borrowed from Tyson’s own one-man show Undisputed Truth, which premiered on Broadway in 2012 in a Spike Lee production. Trevante Rhodes (“Moonlight”) delivers an admirable performance as a grown-up Tyson, embodying both the fighter’s physical presentation and his hyper-specific mannerisms when addressing the crowd, from his soft voice to his surprisingly delicate gestures on the floor Stage. But Tyson’s brand of introspection is nothing new — he’s spoken extensively about his past on talk shows, in documentaries like James Toback’s Tyson, on podcasts like The Joe Rogan Show, and in the book version of Undisputed Truth. In the five episodes (out of eight) given for review, this choice, like so many biopics, feels more like an elaborate form of mimesis than a revealing reappraisal of the subject’s life.
Gillespie is clearly interested in the effect violence has on a child – as in “I, Tonya,” another portrayal of an amazing, notorious athlete, there are graphic depictions of abuse inflicted on him by Tyson’s mother (after she did it herself Has). beaten by Tyson’s alleged father). Raised in the rough and tumble Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, Tyson resorts to petty theft and street fighting with his friends, ending up in upstate juvenile detention. There, one of his advisors, himself a former boxer, notices his talent and introduces him to Cus D’Amato (Harvey Keitel), the old-school Italian boxing trainer who would become his trainer, manager, and adoptive father. Cus molds Tyson into the fighter who would go on to be heavyweight champion and encourages him to contain his emotions both in and out of the ring. As he grows from a cute if troubled young teenager (played with sensitivity by newcomer BJ Minor) to a “monster” who takes out his opponents in under 90 seconds, the violence he learned as a child seems to to carry over to boxing, where he quickly rose to become the most famous athlete in the world.
Viewers are quickly immersed in Gillespie’s imaginative facsimile of the late ’80s and early ’90s, from the retro hairstyles and decor to the media and politics. With its roving camera, first-person narration, and old-school music, “Mike” feels inspired by both the film’s language and the sordid, male-dominated world of Martin Scorsese, though the film’s boxing sequences lack the guts and grace missing “Raging Bull,” which opted for quick cuts from knockout to knockout, was shot primarily from Mike’s point of view. While visually stunning, they miss out on a realistic depiction of the sport and the thrill of seeing a fight in real time.
As Tyson rises to stardom, he marries actress Robin Givens (Laura Harrier), who, along with her mother Ruth (Leslie Silva), is attempting to wrest control of Tyson’s money from his management team, who they believe is exploiting him. While Harrier is well cast as Givens, doing justice to her real-life, uncompromisingly high-maintenance personality is an impossible task. That’s part of the problem with this series – with characters as vibrant and idiosyncratic as Cus D’Amato, Robin Givens and Tyson himself, even seasoned performers can’t match their actual natures. The same goes for Russell Hornsby as Don King, the Detroit gangster-turned-boxing promoter who replaces Givens as Tyson’s handler after their divorce. While “Mike” can be a fun ride at times, there’s nothing here you wouldn’t get if you watch Barbara Kopple’s refreshing 1993 documentary, “Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike Tyson,” which has a plethora of footage, both original and from news archives, that shed light on Tyson’s story.
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Tyson has spoken out against the series, calling Hulu “the streaming version of a slave master.” “They stole my story and didn’t pay me,” he posted on Instagram. It’s hard to imagine what Tyson would struggle with in the first four episodes of the series, which depict him exactly as he describes himself in his own words. Even when he loses his first fight in a big upset against Buster Douglas in Tokyo, the circumstances are identical, if not more benign, to Tyson’s explanation of why he was unfocused. (He partied and had sex with the maids at his hotel.)
However, the fifth episode of the series completely changes course and offers a powerful look into the circumstances of Tyson’s rape of Desirée Washington, told from her perspective. Li Eubanks gives an outstanding performance as Desirée, a fresh and bright high school grad from Coventry, Rhode Island, who competes in the Miss Black America pageant in Indianapolis. The episode could stand on its own and is the first unique take we’ve received in the series so far. The previous four episodes only attempt to put Tyson’s behavior into context – as if his violent upbringing and messy divorce could help explain why he forcefully imposed himself on an 18-year-old who said “no.” We’ve heard all of this before, but we haven’t heard this before. When so often in depictions of rape and domestic violence we get almost no context for it the victims Life, it’s a breath of fresh air to hear Desirée’s story from her POV.
The creators of the series wanted to provide an unbiased look into Tyson’s life so that audiences can decide for themselves how they feel about him. It’s a worthwhile experiment that Tyson himself engaged in for the later part of his career as he tries to get people to see through his notoriety, arrests and ear-biting towards the thoughtful man himself. The show’s title and tagline — “You may know Tyson, but do you know Mike?” — seem to indicate a desire to defamiliarize the subject and give us a picture of someone who isn’t perfect, but who isn’t either Monster. However, you might see it as an invitation to strip him of his power and see him as a mere mortal: just a guy named Mike.
“Mike” premieres Thursday, August 25 on Hulu with two episodes. Two new episodes will be released weekly until the finale on September 15.
https://www.indiewire.com/2022/08/mike-review-mike-tyson-hulu-series-1234755215/ Mike Review: Mike Tyson’s true drama gets a featherweight Hulu series