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1 item from 1997


Film review: 'The Boxer'

22 December 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

The third film in a modern Irish trilogy from Jim Sheridan and Terry George, "The Boxer" joins Sheridan's Oscar-nominated "In the Name of the Father" and George's "Some Mother's Son" as another serious look at troubled Northern Ireland, this time exploring the inner politics of the Irish Republican Army.

Not the stuff of runaway boxoffice but good enough to capture three Golden Globe nominations for best drama, actor and director, the hard-hitting Universal release should connect with its two leads, Daniel Day-Lewis and 1996 Oscar nominee Emily Watson, sparring romantically in dangerous Belfast.

Inspired by the life of Irish boxer Barry McGuigan, Sheridan and co-writer George have assembled the elements of a classic love story amid turmoil. Former IRA member Danny (Day-Lewis) took up boxing in prison and wants to limit his fighting to the ring when released. His old sweetheart Maggie (Watson) married Danny Best's friend, now the one behind bars, but she can't follow her heart.

Maggie has a pro-IRA teenage son (Ciaran Fitzgerald), and her father (Brian Cox) is chief of the local boys, including at least one vicious bloke (Gerard McSorley) who doesn't trust cease-fires and former soldiers like Danny, even when they punish the English legally in sports. In the Barry Fitzgerald/Thomas Mitchell role is Ken Stott as the feisty trainer who dreams of his glory days when he starts working with Danny.

Keeping his gloves on when horrific street battles and bombings are still the reaction of too many to British control of the country, Danny is rebuilding his life. Maggie could be a big part of it, but party rules dictate that wives of prisoners remain faithful, and woe to the daring man who makes a rash move toward one of them.

Danny knows the score, but the two sneak a few meetings. Meanwhile, the uneasy peace is destined to be broken, and the leads are caught up in the viciousness that never seems to end. Throughout, neither Danny nor Maggie is particularly vocal, but the talented actors deftly mix the tragic with the disarmingly playful. Their romance may be muted, but they have strong enough chemistry to keep the film moving, and one comes to dread an unhappy resolution.

What tends to slow down the movie while replaying elements from past works by Sheridan and others are the IRA scenes, where one is expected to sympathize (partially) with hard men in the business of killing innocent people. This time, however, the reason for such harsh measures is hardly introduced. The two sides are small urban armies, with front lines and war meetings in heavily guarded apartment buildings -- a nasty place from which Danny refuses to be driven.

For the terrific boxing scenes, Day-Lewis trained with former featherweight champ McGuigan, and the actor displays a controlled-but-awesome ferocity. The film could have used more such impressive pugilism and less of the usual politically motivated violence, but there's no denying the ending is powerful when brutal justice prevails.

THE BOXER

Universal Pictures

Director: Jim Sheridan

Screenwriters: Jim Sheridan, Terry George

Producers: Jim Sheridan, Arthur Lappin

Director of photography: Chris Menges

Production designer: Brian Morris

Editor: Gerry Hambling

Costume designer: Joan Bergin

Music: Gavin Friday, Maurice Seezer

Casting: Nuala Moiselle

Color/stereo

Cast:

Danny: Daniel Day-Lewis

Maggie: Emily Watson

Joe Hamill: Brian Cox

Ike Weir: Ken Stott

Harry: Gerard McSorley

Liam: Ciaran Fitzgerald

Running time -- 110 minutes

MPAA rating: R

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1 item from 1997


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