The boxing world has always been fertile ground for fascinating personalities and epic showdowns — some tailor-made for documentary films. Two such movies are ready to enter the ring after being featured at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival: James Toback’s revealing Tyson and John Dower’s Thrilla in Manila.
Director James Toback is known to have a renegade streak and that was apparent in his first collaboration with Tyson, the 1999 racy race-relations drama Black and White. Tyson plays himself (of course), a guy pissed off enough to grab Robert Downey, Jr. after Downey offers an ad lib or two saying he’s had dreams about the former heavyweight champ…
Fast forward to 2008, and Toback has devoted an entire film to Tyson, digging into the man’s life via interviews, archival footage, still photos… and a good deal of sympathy. The 90-minute film was generally well-received at Cannes, winning a wacky one-time award called the “Regard Knockout Award.” (Click on the poster for the biggie.)
In January, Sony Pictures Classics picked up Tyson for distribution, and a limited release begins April 29.
:: Thrilla in Manila (aka “Thriller in Manila”)
Anyone with a remote interest in boxing knows what this film’s title refers to: the last of three remarkable fights between two unbelievable legends, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. At the center of the story is “Ali-Frazier III,” of course, but there’s a lot more behind the tale: Frazier’s support of Ali’s war protest, Ali using race to ridicule Frazier, and the intense trilogy of fury both fighters brought to the world in the early 1970s.
And while many films adore Ali’s side of the story, director John Dower (the NY Cosmos film Once In A Lifetime) focuses on the point-of-view held by Frazier, often considered the “other man” in the ring.
Here’s a short trailer from the film’s TV airing in the UK:
HBO has picked up Thrilla in Manila, and will premiere the film April 11 at 8pm.