Dir: Clement Virgo. Can. 2007. 104mins.

If you haven't had your fill of motivational boxing movies, here's one with a twist. Clement Virgo's Poor Boy's Game is a Canadian fight feature. In Nova Scotia, an ex-con enters the ring to pay a moral debt and escape the dead-end of Halifax's rough white underclass.

Even with Danny Glover in the cast, given the glut of recent boxing films, PoorBoy's Gamecould get KO'ed at the box office in the US and Canada, where the audience's appetite for boxing-as-life punditry may be sated with Million Dollar Baby, Cinderella Man and the latest version of Rocky. Yet the novelty of a Canadian fight film set amid racial strife should assure PoorBoy's Game a berth on the festival circuit.

Young Donnie Rose (Sutherland) is about to leave prison after ten years for beating a black man and disabling him for life. Donnie returns to Halifax's poor white ghetto, where his mother is shacked up with a drunk and his brother is an abusive husband.

In an early scene, in which Donnie has sex with his black cellmate (who embroiders him a boxing robe as a going-away present), it looks as if PoorBoy's Game will be a unique novelty, a gay Canadian boxing movie. Yet once out of prison, Donnie reverts to heterosexuality, so we have to settle for watching him have sex with Emma, his brother's battered wife (Regan).

Tensions with the local black community are fierce. At a nightclub run by Donnie's Uncle Joe (McHattie), Donnie, now a bouncer, is told to keep Blacks out. When the cocky local black boxer Ossie Paris (Alexander) wins a few bouts, he challenges Donnie to fight him, hoping to avenge the savage beating of a decade ago.

As action leads predictably toward that Main Event - with an outcome that settles all moral scores - the film plays on the heart and the gut. Virgo's script (co-written with Chaz Thorne), with its angry white characters, aims for a Halifax Scorsese effect, with fuck as every other word, even from women. As in Raging Bull, anger seethes, and more fights break out at home or in parking lots than in the ring.

Danny Glover plays saintly George Carbury, the dockworker whose son (Chris Collins) was beaten into dementia by Donnie. (We learn later that Donnie took the rap back then and did time for his hothead racist brother.) George cares for his son with infinite patience. Rejecting vengeance, he coaches Donnie with motivational grunts that infuse influences from On The Waterfront and Raging Bull with other ring cliches.

Poor Boy's Game marks a shot at a commercial formula; that said, it premiered in Berlin with a murky-looking print that could deter audiences and buyers (although the film has secured severak sales).

Boxing verisimilitude, especially in training scenes, is lacking, despite a special camera designed to shake when a punch lands. Perhaps Virgo anticipated that his public would come to the film for family and racial drama, not pugilism.

Production companies/backers
Standing 8 Productions
Conquering Lion Pictures

International sales
Seville Pictures

Damon D'Oliveira
Chaz Thorne
Clement Virgo

Chaz Thorne
Clement Virgo

Luc Montpellier

Production design
Bill Fleming

Susan Maggi

Byron Wong

Main cast
Rossif Sutherland
Danny Glover
Flex Alexander
Greg Bryk
Laura Regan
Tonya Lee Williams
Stephen McHattie
Chris Collins