Tiger review – a solid sporting documentary that can’t quite back its own claims par for the course

January 11, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
HBO, TV Reviews
2.5

Summary

Tiger has plenty of great material, both on the course and behind the scenes, but in the end it provides less insight into Tiger Woods as a cultural figure than it perhaps would have liked.

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2.5

Summary

Tiger has plenty of great material, both on the course and behind the scenes, but in the end it provides less insight into Tiger Woods as a cultural figure than it perhaps would have liked.

Matthew Heineman and Matthew Hamachek (and executive producer Alex Gibney) would evidently like Tiger, a two-part, four-hour documentary streaming on HBO, to be the latest mainstream unpacking of a mythic American sportsman. But this is, unfortunately, no The Last Dance, perhaps in part because it makes no secret of its ambitions to emulate its success right out of the gate. There’s no denying that Tiger Woods transcended the sport of golf, but whether or not he permeated culture in the same way as Michael Jordan, or in a way that justifies the frankly outlandish claims of his father, Earl, that Tiger bemusingly opens with, is another question entirely – one not answered satisfactorily here.

The golf stuff really works, though, in part because golf is nowhere near as popular or widely-understood as basketball, so Tiger’s meteoric success in the sport feels almost revelatory, especially in regards to his race and his relationship with a father whose investment in his career seems unhealthy at best. This relationship proves integral in what becomes a gradual breakdown of Tiger’s life and public image; an outgrowth of indescribable success and almost a resistance to a seemingly perfect personal life to match that flawless sporting career. The sins of the father are inherited; the burden of being superhuman in achievement only makes you more human than you were before.

For better and worse, Tiger lacks the candid perspective of Tiger Woods himself, who is for the most part completely uninvolved. You can understand why, given its focus on parts of his life he’d probably rather keep in the past, but the question must also be raised of how much insight the documentary lacks as a result. Are close friends, colleagues, and family going to be inclined to talk truly honestly and openly about a man who didn’t want to participate in a hagiography of his own life? There is a reason most of those interviewed are former girlfriends and mistresses and past associates who have been disassociated from him for long enough not to care about annoying him.

With all this, there’s something unavoidably salacious about Tiger. Some of the ways in which he’s described – “How am I ever gonna be with a mere mortal again?” – are a bit ridiculous, and give a sense of careful impression-building that we’re supposed to take at face value, one assumes without paying much mind to who’s not involved, rather than who is. That headline-grabbing sensationalism is off-putting, and more to the point rather counter to the stated goals of the documentary itself, which is ostensibly to provide candid insight into a great (albeit very flawed) sporting giant. If that was truly the intention, wouldn’t more people actually close to the subject be more willing to be involved? Wouldn’t we, coming away from the documentary, have a better sense of who that subject actually was? In that sense, at least, Tiger is something of a bogey.

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