HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Cardboard Boxer
HTS Overall Score:69
Homeless people panhandling on the side of the road is nothing new in the world. I dare say it’s not just an American thing to see someone on the side of the road begging for change (though the media would have you believing it is so), as I’ve been to several first world countries where you see the same thing. It’s a sad sight, and not just because you pity the poor guys and gals forced to make a living out of dumpster diving and begging. It’s sad because it’s so prevalent. Sad that a nation as well off as ours (I’m speaking as a U.S. resident now) has veterans, moms, dads, sisters, brothers out on the street begging just to get by. Now there’s the flipside to that coin. Not all of these people are innocents who have just had a raw deal. Many of them are mentally ill, others prefer being out there than working, and still others are running from someone in society (whether that be the law, a friend, ex etc) and it makes for a motley crew. “Cardboard Boxer” takes a look at the lives of a few of these men and gives us an awkward take on their survival on the streets.
While the movie is described as a film about a homeless man who is drawn into the world of “bum fights” (people paying to watch homeless people in no holds barred fights), but it’s much more a slice of life film. The fighting element of the story isn’t really as prevalent as you’d think. We have the story of one such homeless man named “Willie” (Thomas Haden Church) as he’s forced to live in destitution on the street. It’s not overtly SAID, but heavily intimated, that Willie is a bit on the mentally handicapped side. He struggles to live day to day and makes imaginary pen pals with a young girl after finding her diary in the dumpster. His life is pure misery. He gets by stealing food from garbage cans and huddles in a cardboard box for SOME kind of warmth. The only kindness he receives is from a washed up amputee veteran named Pinky (Boyd Holbrock) and a kind hearted cab driver named Pope who lends him a blanket (played by Terrance Howard).
When a couple of rich punks come to the skid row slums, he is given an opportunity to make some cash. He can live life like he’s been doing, or he can participate in bare knuckle brawling for $50 a fight. While $50 may not seem like a whole lot to get in and risk life and limb, for these guys it’s a TON of a cash. Soon Willie’s taking down bum after bum and actually able to afford a few niceties (a night at a hotel, a clean shower and some REAL food). Only thing is, he’s not exactly happy with the person he’s become, scrapping in the streets and beating up his fellow friends for a few bucks. While he’s not exactly the brightest guy on the block, there’s a sense of decency that hasn’t been stamped out by years on the street.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=84473[/img]“Cardboard Boxer” walks a fine line between honestly sweet and endearing and a bit overly clichéd. Willie is kind of the “gentle giant” character who has been thrust into a life of poverty and homelessness through whatever winds of fate brought him here (his backstory is never really explained), and his simple kindness and sweetness tugs at your heart strings. He’s a bit developmentally challenged as evidenced by his sluggish speech patterns and the fact that he writes letters to an unknown girl and sends them off by making them into paper airplanes. Still, Thomas Hayden Church brings a sincerity and sweetness to the role that makes Willie rather believable (he was executive producer and by all records and interviews seemed to have been very passionate about the project). The only downside is the meandering script.
The meandering comes from a script that really doesn’t know which direction to take. On one hand it wants us to see the horrible life these guys lead and the pandering done to them by the general public (there’s a couple of shots that highlight this with well-meaning religious people trying to convert the homeless men to Christ and totally ignoring their physical needs. Something which tends to drive people away). Then we have the bum fight aspect of the film where Willie is taking on the rest of the homeless in an effort to get food and money. Something which comes and goes throughout the movie as we’re left with long periods of time where we just look at the haggard face of the men and see the struggle in their eyes. It gets kind of choppy and old after a while, and seems too much like the proverbial “oscar bait” in that it’s trying to elicit an emotional response over their plight in order to get the audience to feel sad about the situation. In some ways it works, but in other ways it comes across as clichéd and overly intentional.
Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=84481[/img]Well Go USA presents “Cardboard Boxer” on Blu-ray with a nice looking digital encode (sadly I couldn’t find out what cameras were used or what the DI was finalized at) that really looks incredibly sharp most of the time. There’s some softness in the darker night time shots, but the rest of the picture boasts a nice crisp and clear looking image that is VERY nice to look at. While the clarity is spot on, the colors tend to be a bit flat and mute, giving prevalence to soft grays and blues. Sometimes there’s a few splashes of neutral color grading (look at the roof top scene where Willie is looking out over the city mulling over the life choices he made) but a majority of the runtime is spent with the colors in that grey flat looking tone. Fine detail is well done, with the scraggly beard on Willie’s face and the grime and muck of the life these men live in showing up with sharp clarity. Every once in a while I did notice that softness creep in, but the black levels are maintained properly and the banding that sometimes pops up on Well Go USA releases is kept in check with only a few minor bouts to speak of.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=84489[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is fairly talky mix, with very little surround activity except for the ambient noises of the city around the men. There’s a few times where a crashing can, or a falling lid on a dumpster resounds in the back two speakers, but most of the time the dialog and ambient noises tend to flow from the front three speakers. Dialog is crisp and cleanly intelligible at all times, and there’s some nice imaging in the front with the rustling and rattling of the skid row like alley that the men make their home in. LFE is tight and controlled, adding some mid range bump to the fight scenes as well as the sound of passing automobiles. It’s a simple drama track, but one that is done effectively and cleanly.
“Cardboard Boxer” has a fantastic premise, and some excellent acting by both Church and Howard. Church especially gives a riveting performance as the haggard and downtrodden Willie. The ending came across a bit contrived and overly saccharine, but the compelling performances made up for a goodly amount of the flaws in the film. I could have used some more backstory to the plight of Willie, as with some tighter focus with the plot, but it was a decent watch that I don’t regret seeing. Audio and video look solid for the Well Go USA release with the only REALLY disappointing thing being the fact that there is no extras other than a trailer for the film.
Starring: Thomas Hayden Church, Terrance Howard, Boyd Holbrook
Directed by: Knate Lee
Written by: Knate Lee
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, English DD 2.0
Studio: Well Go USA
Runtime: 88 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: November 15th 2016
Buy Cardboard Boxer On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Decent watch/Rental
More about Mike