Cinematic Releases: Cardboard Boxer (2016) – Reviewed

thomas haden church
Limited theatrical release and VOD
Thomas Haden Church stars in Cardboard Boxer as a homeless man named Willie who struggles to get by every day while living on the streets of Los Angeles, developing the moniker of the cardboard boxer after being paid to fight another bum. Church delivers an award winning caliber performance in this dark and heart-wrenching drama, which focuses on the plight of one homeless man and the other similar people that surround his world. Due to his powerful portrayal and the authenticity of the homeless subculture that has been created, this is a touching drama that is worthy of viewing.

It seems somewhat unusual that first time writer and director Knate Gwaltney would choose such a dramatic story to tell, since he is mostly known for his work on Jackass, Bad Grandpa, and some other similar television series. But he creates a good tale and a host of fascinating characters that are set within this environment. Difficult themes are touched upon that include mental illness, the lifestyle and culture that are part of being homeless, and the fact that these are real people who have their own stories to tell. That is something that most people take for granted, often trying to ignore the fact that they even exist as we pass by them. The dialogue seems realistic to the characters and the situations and you do become invested in Willie as the film moves forward.

A large portion of the narrative is told through a combination of establishing camera shots, music, and narration. Most of the camera work is used to further set up the characters and what’s going on with them, while also making the viewer take in their environment and what their lives are like. There are several memorable scenes that involved the camera panning in or pulling away, often combined with some rather effective music. The fight sequences where filmed in a shaky cam style, which helped create a more hectic and real situation. The score from Jess Stroup is absolutely superb and really adds onto the emotional journey that the viewer is taken on.

Church is simply brilliant in this with his stunning portrayal of the almost childlike Willie, creating a unique and interesting person through a blend of facial expressions, physical style, and a distinctive speech pattern. The camera is often placed on him without the use of any dialogue, leaving him to paint a portrait of this man through his expressions alone. Other times, he narrates portions of the movie, providing us with more information about himself. If this weren’t the type of small independent production that often gets overlooked, it is the type of role that would put Church in the discussion for an Academy Award nomination. The other performances are adequately played, but he carries this picture. Terrence Howard is decent in the minimal amount of screen time that his role is afforded. Boyd Holbrook (Narcos) is terrific in his role as a wheelchair bound homeless war veteran who befriends Willie. The rest of the cast that portray the other homeless individuals are all wonderful, creating a host of eclectic characters.

thomas haden church
Will act for food.

The excellent supporting cast combined with Thomas Haden Church’s fantastic portrayal of the cardboard boxer makes this drama demanding of attention.

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-Raul Vantassle