Lennox Lewis: The Untold Story Review: Gentle and Ferocious

Doc profiles the Canadian boxing champ who went toe-to-toe with Tyson

5 mins read

Lennox Lewis: The Untold Story
(USA, 95 min.)
Dir. Rick Lazes and Seth Koch

“Lennox is a very measured and calculating man,” says Violet Lewis in Lennox Lewis: The Untold Story. “He’s like an onion that you keep peeling back and think, ‘Oh, I’ve got it’. You realise you haven’t got it, and that it goes even further. His personality is like a lion.”

Lewis says that her lion-like husband is both “ferocious” and “gentle”. Those adjectives might seem more appropriate than an onion to describe her husband, three-time world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. However, The Untold Story leaves little doubt that, while Lewis has many layers, he’s also shares an onion’s talent for bringing tears to the eyes of grown men.

Lennox Lewis: The Untold Story by directors Rick Lazes and Seth Koch succinctly summarizes the career of the British-Canadian boxer. On the heels of docs like The Last Dance and Tiger, the film is a surprising reminder of how few films tell the stories of Canadian athletes. (There are Willie and The Carter Effect and some CBC docs, but few features.) The Untold Story offers a cradle-to-retirement narrative of Lewis’s career (he’s not yet in the grave) and makes clear why he deserves his place in history among boxers who might have greater name recognition due to notoriety. (Looking at you, Mike Tyson!)

The film charts his childhood in London, England where he was born to Jamaican parents. His mother, also named Violet, recalls leaving her young son in London when she moved to Canada for work. Lewis, meanwhile, speaks about these years as a period of troubles as he encountered violence and abuse, and would often fight with other kids. He moved to Kitchener, Ontario several years later to live with his mom, which both Lewis and the senior Violet note was crucial to his professional career.

The Untold Story is ultimately a success story about one young man who was encouraged to channel his energy and frustration into sports. Following a mild run-in with the law, Lewis recalls his teenage-self being sentenced to athletics, rather than juvenile detention. (The Canadian system at work.) The rest is history as The Untold Story chronicles Lewis’s rise from Olympic gold medalist to professional champ.

The doc displays some symptoms of “Wikipediitis” as it covers considerable breadth of Lennox’s career. Unlike the article that’s just a Google click away, however, Lazes and Koch lay the info dump atop a supple collage of the champ’s most significant boxes matches. They provide illuminating (and entertaining) archival images from publicity tours that reveal sleazy boxing promoting Don King in his element. The roster of talking heads features many notable figures with a hand in Lennox’s story, save for King, including fellow champs Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.

The Untold Story finds a sweet spot in the dramatic contrast between Lewis and Tyson. The former brings a dignified and measured approach to the sport while the latter personifies trash TV and seems better suited for a tussle on Jerry Springer than a bout in the ring. Tyson remains unchanged in the interviews. He shows little remorse for his behaviour, including the notorious ear-biting incident, which makes the cut in The Untold Story.

Additional star power arrives in the narration by Dr. Dre, who adds a propulsive beat to the story. As the rapper guides audiences through the arc of Lewis’s career, the doc gives a justly celebratory portrait of a boxer who upholds the title of a champion. Lennox Lewis: The Untold Story is light on its feet with its conventional broadcast style, but it’s quick enough to land a hook beyond the boxing crowd—ferocious, yet gentle.

Lennox Lewis: The Untold Story is now available on video on demand and streams on Crave Feb. 1.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

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