By Jonathon Norcross
“Tiger” is a two-part HBO documentary on the life and career of superstar golfer Tiger Woods. Produced by Alex Gibney and directed by Matthew Hamachek and Matthew Heineman, the choice of filmmakers was criticized prior to the film’s release. It was alleged that two white directors could not understand or aptly address the racial components of Woods’ life. While race as a topic is addressed in Tiger, it is certainly not an avenue well-traveled. An audience looking for the exploration of race present in films such as “O.J.: Made in America” or the Bruce Lee ESPN doc “Be Water” will have to look elsewhere.
“Tiger” is likely to be the definitive documentary about Tiger Woods. It provides a compelling overview of his career, allowing those who didn’t witness Tiger in his prime to understand how dominant a player he was. The fixation on Woods’ father is perhaps the film’s best insight into Tiger’s character. As Tiger’s life unfolds, it becomes increasingly obvious that he has emulated his father in countless ways.
His ability to mentally block out the world and fixate entirely on the game of golf is both his greatest asset as an athlete and perhaps his worst failing as a human. It’s become an internet cliche to say that men will do almost anything rather than go to therapy. Tiger is definitely a guy who should’ve gone to therapy. This film does a commendable job of portraying him as a warm-hearted boy locked inside an external demeanor of cold, calculating obsessiveness.
Although Tiger Woods makes for an interesting documentary subject, most of this film’s shortcomings are baked into the subject matter. Woods is not as compelling as Michael Jordan in “The Last Dance.” Woods’ criminal misdeeds do not approach the insanity of O.J. Simpson’s in “O.J.: Made in America.” Golf as a sport is not as intense or visually thrilling as basketball or football. One gets the sense that Tiger is constantly grasping for the insightful moments of “O.J.: Made in America” and the meme-able moments of “The Last Dance,” but it never quite reaches its targets. Again, this is not so much the fault of the filmmakers as the relative tameness of Woods as a subject.
It’s also debatable as to whether there’s a need to expound upon all of Tiger’s marital infidelities in as much detail as this film does. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for famous athletes to cheat on their spouses. In Tiger’s case, his calm demeanor and clean image clash with his philandering antics but it’s always been unrealistic for the public to project heroic attributes onto people whose job is simply to play a sport for a living.
A person’s skills in one arena, however great they may be, have nothing at all to do with their personal conduct or sense of morality. Fans who become incensed at their favorite athlete’s personal failings should probably ask themselves why they believed that their favorite athlete was flawless in the first place. Perhaps the best illustration of this in “Tiger” is when Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne lambasts Woods at a press conference. Broadcaster Bryant Gumbel rightly points out the hints of racism and blatant double-standards in this totally unnecessary public shaming. Was Tiger the first golfer to cheat on his spouse? Does his talent as a golfer mean he must be held to a higher standard than all other humans?
“Tiger” thoughtfully addresses these questions and concludes on a surprisingly sympathetic note. As a whole, the film is consistently entertaining and thought-provoking. It doesn’t reach the heights of other recent docs about iconic athletes, such as “O.J.: Made in America” or “The Last Dance,” but then again, that’s a very high bar to set.
Norcross is a frequent contributor to Channel Nonfiction. He lives in New York City and is a co-host of The Post Cast.