Those who were deeply involved with the Internet back in the early oughts can probably recall some more disappointing things put out by humanity that circulated in its time. One of those things being a series of videos and tapes called “Bum Fights”. It came out not that far off from the time when Jackass made a splash. The difference being that this series purportedly featured a couple of homeless individuals doing stunts and fighting one another for small sums of money. Essentially a more exploitative version of Jackass riding on the backs of homeless individuals. Cardboard Boxer takes us into the life of a homeless man who becomes involved with a similar scheme.
Thomas Haden Church is Willie. Willie is one of many homeless people. He lives a life of begging and scavenging. One day he finds a girl’s journal while scavenging and feels drawn to read it. After reading it, he begins to write back to her in a way of both understanding himself more and providing the viewer with an opportunity to learn more about him. He tells the girl about his life and what he cares about. As he reads on, he discovers his biggest fear and what he wants most. He wishes to not die alone and he wants to be known and seen by somebody who cares for him.
Along the way, Willie makes friends with Pinky, a wounded war veteran turned homeless. Pinky reads parts of the diary that Willie can’t read for him and Willie helps him more effectively ask for money. These two develop a bit of a friendship and we get to see Willie look out for another person.
Running in parallel, Willie meanders his way into the underground homeless fight scene. Some college kids have offered another homeless man $50 to fight someone. As Willie manages to win the fight, he earns the $50 and the title of “Cardboard Boxer”. Willie uses the money to treat himself to a night in a hotel room with a shower and some TV. In the following weeks, Willie participates and wins more fights and begins to think these college kids are his friends. Soon, things fall apart where the other homeless individuals don’t trust him and he realizes that the college kids don’t care about him and he must find his value elsewhere.
All things considered, Cardboard Boxer is rather uneven. The movie successfully conveys just how nasty the homeless fighting scene is. The plight of the homeless does feel relatively real. There isn’t much to drive home the hopelessness of the situation or explore much of the struggles that result in people being homeless. What is shown is shown in a relatively matter of fact fashion and doesn’t rest on it for long.
The best part of the movie is the relationship between Willie and Pinky. This is what the movie needed more of and honestly the fight storyline just distracts from it. Willie’s desire to be known and cared for shows best in this relationship and the diary as opposed to the fights. The diary also allows us a lot of opportunity to see Willie reflect. While relying a bit much exposition, I think it works in the moment without being too heavy handed.
As opposed to the storytelling, the acting is very strong. Thomas Haden Church is very good at portraying Willie. He provides an interesting way of talking and staring that hints that he been homeless for a while and really missing something in his life. Pinky, played by Boyd Holbrook is also very good. Occasionally a little heavy handed in delivery, but does mostly deliver a good deal of authenticity about him. I don’t know what Terrence Howard is doing here. He is second-billed, but has little screen time and adds less to the story. He pretty much only exists to add a moral compass and enact karma in the story.
Picture Quality: 4/5
Cardboard Boxer has a sharp picture with good clarity despite dark conditions through much of the movie. Some limited but managed grain is present through most of the film. The dark scenes do look good. The darks never seem too overwhelming for the scenes. The picture is strong enough to make you feel the grit and grime of their tough life.
Audio Quality: 4/5
Cardboard Boxer features a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track which services the movie mostly well. You often feel in the midst of the clamor in the fight scenes. The shouting and background noise feels right as it plays through the track properly. There isn’t much else to really care about other than the dialog, which is clear and fine.
Special Features and Packaging: 0.5/5
What special features? All we get with this release is the trailer. That and trailers for other movies. I don’t consider trailers for other movies to be an extra, so that leaves just the trailer. It is better than some Mill Creek releases. That says something I guess.
Cardboard Boxer includes no slipcover. The disc comes in just a standard single disc Blu-ray case. The cover art features generic imagery with Terrence Howard who is pretty inconsequential in the movie.
Cardboard Boxers approaches a few hard topics. We get a look at the difficulty of the daily life in the homeless along with lightly touching on the mental illness and struggles of those individuals. The movie takes us into the experiences of the homeless fight put on for entertainment of the more fortunate. If it sounds uncomfortable, it is. And it is meant to be that way. It also is somewhat of a fleeting experience as the movie never rests on anything long enough to deliver the weight of the message.
On the other hand, Thomas Haden Church and Boyd Holbrook deliver some strong acting performances. These two are the reason to watch it. But in the end it isn’t enjoyable enough, nor does it deliver the weight that it should to be worthy of frequent viewings. The technical specs are good, but nothing to write home about and the special features are nonexistent. Honestly, just rent it.
You can buy it off of Amazon here.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.