- Actors: Thomas Haden Church, Terrence Howard, Johanna Braddy
- Director: Knate Lee
- Format: Dolby, NTSC, THX, Widescreen
- Language: English
- Subtitles: English
- Number of discs: 1
- Rated: Not Rated
- Studio: Well Go USA
- Release Date: November 15, 2016
- Run Time: 89 minutes
The acting is so phenomenal in Cardboard Boxer that it makes the laziness of the screenplay all the more shameful. Rather than relying on the brutal realism of the situation, first-time screenwriter and director Knate Lee (who previously worked as cinematographer and producer on the Jackass movies under the name of Knate Gwaltney) forces contrived situations onto his characters. No matter how powerful Thomas Haden Church’s performance is or how admirable the message of Lee’s screenplay might be, no amount of the film’s strengths can make up for the emotional manipulation used to get that message across.
The film follows a simple-minded homeless man named Willie (Thomas Haden Church), struggling to survive the winter cold on the streets of Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Willie is kindhearted, though there are subtle indications that he may not be mental stable. Mostly he just seems lonely, always in search of some type of friend. He temporarily finds this in a disabled war veteran named Pinky (Boyd Holbrook), although his main source of companionship comes from young girl’s diary that he discovers while dumpster diving. Learning cursive just so he can continue to read the entries, Willie even writes letters in response that he sends soaring off of a building rooftop in the form of paper airplanes.
Willie’s longing for friends along with his desperate desire to get out of the cold for an evening leads him to be coerced into fighting other homeless men for money. A group of over-privileged college students (led by Rhys Wakefield) convince Willie that they are his friend, which leads him into a pattern of violence that he doesn’t seem to understand fully. This new practice doesn’t sit well with a former resident of the streets known as Pope (Terence Howard), who works as a cab driver in the neighborhood.
There are several of these sub-plots, though the film is really just a slow-paced character study of Willie. It is a timely narrative, though not necessarily original. A similar character study taking place in New York called Time Out of Mind came out a couple years ago, starring Richard Gere, and the large budget Hollywood feature, The Soloist, also took place on Skid Row. Even though this is not the first time the material has been covered, that would have easily been forgiven due to the quality of the acting. That is, if it weren’t for the manufactured emotional ending that even acting can’t quite save.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10
Historical Significance: 3/10
Special Features: 0/10