Judge Christopher Kulik thinks a better title for this movie would have been Poor Man's Rocky.
Beyond the rage, there is a man. Beyond the ring, there is a second chance.
There have been several films set in the world of boxing. Some are outstanding: Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby, and Rocky. Others, such as Diggstown and both versions of The Champ, might not be terrific, but they are worthwhile in their own way. I would place Poor Boy's Game in that same camp. This is an independent feature filmed in Halifax, Nova Scotia by Jamaican Clement Virgo (Lie With Me). Like other films in the genre, it's not so much about boxing but about character relationships. After playing the festival circuit for the better part of the last year, Poor Boy's Game is now available on DVD courtesy of Th!nkFilm.
The film opens with a 1997 video recording of Donnie Rose (Rossie Sutherland, ER) giving a confession to the brutal beating of Charlie Carvery (K.C. Collins, Bulletproof Monk), a local black teenager who is now completely handicapped. While Donnie was sentenced to three years in prison, he ended up serving nine—he has anger problems and got into a lot of fights with other inmates. Eventually, Donnie learned to channel his anger through prison boxing; unfortunately, he was also sexually abused by several black prisoners.
It is now 2007. Donnie is finally released, and the news angers Charlie's father George (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon). Hooking back up with his racist brother Keith (Greg Bryk, A History of Violence), Donnie manages to get a job at a local dance club. George contemplates getting revenge, though it is Charlie's best friend, Ossie Paris (Flex Alexander, Snakes on a Plane), who wants payback. Ossie is a local boxing champion who decides to challenge Donnie to a fight. To everyone's astonishment, Donnie accepts. Ossie makes his goal clear to others in the black community: he wants to mutilate Donnie in the boxing ring. George doesn't think it's a good idea, and he actually proceeds to do the unthinkable: train Donnie for the fight.
Despite its contrived set up, Poor Boy's Game is not as predictable or heavy-handed as you might expect. While the story can't bear close scrutiny, director Virgo and Co-writer Chaz Thorne give their characters enough focus to sometimes rise above the clichés.
One problem is that the story drags at times and introduces some unnecessary subplots, such as Donnie's growing sexual relationship with his sister-in-law Emma (the lovely Laura Regan, Someone Like You). It's when Virgo sticks to the realistic confrontations between George and Donnie that the film scores.
The acting in Poor Boy's Game runs hot-and-cold. As Donnie, Rossie Sutherland is rather unconvincing as a thug. When he is silent, he is bearable, though when he speaks, he sounds like Pauly Shore on acid. Danny Glover, on the other hand, gives another in a long list of masterful performances. In fact, he is the main reason to watch the film.
Other fine performances belong to Tonya Lee Williams as George's wife and Greg Bryk as Donnie's brother, who is at the antagonizing center of several moments of racial tension.
K.C. Collins steals the film in the heartbreaking role of the brain-damaged Charlie. His final moment at a local boxing club is simply unforgettable.
Th!nkFilm has rolled out Poor Boy's Game in a not-bad DVD presentation, which offers a 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer. Being low-budget, the picture lacks edge and clarity, though it still comes off as decent-enough. No grain or edge enhancement was detected. There is a DD 5.1 Surround Track that gives extra punch to the climactic fight, which is actually very well shot and performed. Subtitles are also provided in English and Spanish. Extras are rather slim, however, with a rap music video called "Africville," by Black Union featuring Maestro and a photo gallery accompanied by the song "Breathe" by Luke Nicholson. There is also a trailer, as well as previews for other releases from Th!nkFilm.
I declare Poor Boy's Game worthy enough for a rental, though don't
expect anything explosive or earth-shattering. Th!nkFilm and the movie are found
not guilty and free to go.
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• "Africville" Music Video by Black Union featuring Maestro
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