It had to start with the ear. Despite all of Mike Tyson’s countless accomplishments, scandals and crimes, knockouts and defeats, he will always be remembered as the man who bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear. It is with this visceral image that Mike, a new TV drama miniseries on Disney Plus, begins. After a quick look at the silver shot, as it is, Mike returns to the early 70s, when Tyson was a child. From there, we follow him through his life, dodging and swinging between his painful upbringing, his rise to become world heavyweight boxing champion, and his fall.
Most people know the gist of Tyson’s story. His way of dominating the ring. His prison sentence after being convicted of rape. His face tattoo. His pet tiger. Mike isn’t it interested in the tabloid eccentricities of Tyson’s life – but that’s not necessarily all about boxing either. Rather, it strives to be a character study, breaking Iron Mike down into little psychological ingots. Tyson is played, as an adult, by Trevante Rhodes, the actor best known for his role as the older version of the protagonist in Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning 2016 elegiac. Moonlight. Harvey Keitel plays Cus D’Amato, Tyson’s trainer and father figure throughout his formative years as a fighter. Russell Hornsby enters the series halfway through as criminal boxing promoter Don King.
There is a real cinematic air to much of Mike, thanks in part to the astute direction of Craig Gillespie. Gillespie is perhaps best known for Tonya Harding’s Oscar-winning 2018 biopic Me Tonya – a highly entertaining crime drama that many have dismissed as an overly deferential homage to Martin Scorsese. There’s also a lot of Scorsese in Mike – the whole first episode feels like an extension Freedmen riff. As it unfolds, the series becomes a little more on its own; the scenes have room to breathe.
While Scorsese’s own take on the fisticuffs feature, the seminal 1980 drama angry bullwas praised for its verisimilitude, Mike is not a good representation of the sport of boxing. There are cracking moments – great and horrifying slow-mo shots of fists rippling on flesh, faces contorting from impact – but none of it feels like you’re watching two real boxers go at it. put.
Of course, the ultimate problem with Mike for most people will not be his sporting loyalty, but his choice of subject. There’s simply no getting around Tyson’s deplorable actions as a man. While the real Tyson denounced the show in the strongest terms, Mike nevertheless does a deft enough job of humanizing it. Trevante Rhodes gives the boxer a vulnerability that you can’t help but feel pity for, even in many of his ugliest moments. Whether this pity is justified is another matter.
How, then, does this leave Mike? Not a knockout, that’s for sure. Call it a respectable loss of points. No biting involved.