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(1997) (Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson) (R)

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Drama: A former IRA member, recently released from prison, hopes for peace and another chance to regain both his boxing career and his former girlfriend.
After serving fourteen years in prison, former IRA member Danny Flynn (DANIEL DAY- LEWIS) returns to his home in Belfast, Ireland. The city is still under siege and British troops immediately respond to any IRA terrorist activities. Seeking to start his life anew, Danny returns to the boxing ring where he's managed by Ike Weir (KEN STOTT), who's happy his fighter has returned home.

Not everyone is happy, however, including Danny's former girlfriend, Maggie Hamill (EMILY WATSON). Although she's now married and has a teenage son, Liam (CIARAN FITZGERALD), seeing Danny again stirs emotions she thought she had put behind her years ago. Her father Joe (BRIAN COX), who runs the local arm of the IRA, thinks Danny's reappearance and Ike's nonsectarian boxing house might help further his push for peace between the Catholics and Protestants.

Joe's right-hand man Harry (GERARD McSORLEY), a pro terrorist member, however, knows that Danny is no longer committed to their cause. Although Danny went to prison for remaining silent about Harry's activities, Harry decides that they must eliminate Danny, especially after he throws away many of their explosives. This danger increases as Danny and Maggie's long dormant romance blossoms again, and they then face danger from both those they'd expect it from, as well as those they'd never imagine would threaten them.

Unless they're fans of Day-Lewis or Watson, it's not very likely.
For language and some violence.
  • DANIEL DAY LEWIS plays a former IRA member who spent time in prison for another man. Upon his release he sets out to go straight and pursues his old love. He also starts boxing again and curses quite a bit (usually only when angry).
  • EMILY WATSON plays a woman married to a terrorist in prison who begins to fall for Danny, but knows she must put her son before anything else in her life.
  • GERARD McSORLEY plays a pro terrorist IRA member who's responsible for several terrorist acts and tries to have Danny killed.
  • CIARAN FITZGERALD plays a teenager who participates in riots (throwing Molotov cocktails) and helps in burning down the boxing center.


    OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
    An interesting mix of boxing and Irish political genres, "The Boxer" effectively combines the two with decent performances but is ultimately hampered by an often ambiguous plot. This film marks the third collaboration between director Jim Sheridan and Daniel Day-Lewis whose previous films were the Oscar nominated features "My Left Foot" and "In the Name of the Father." Adding in screenwriter Terry George who returns for his second collaboration (Oscar nominated for "In the Name of the Father"), and obviously there are high expectations for this film.

    For the most part, it's quite good. Essentially a multilayered story, however, it nearly spreads its focus too thin on the three main plots: The IRA and the changes it's going through; A boxer returns to the ring after a fourteen-year absence; and finally a love story. While they're all mostly balanced in screen time, the love story nearly feels short changed. We know of the main characters' love for each other, but jumping into their reunited relationship more than a decade later doesn't give us much knowledge of their previous time together. Other than knowing that they were teen lovers in a turbulent period, we aren't initially given much incentive to root for their reunited love.

    Likewise, we never see Maggie's imprisoned husband and his anonymity hurts the "scandalous" relationship that develops between her and Danny. Sure, it has some adulterous elements (although she claims hers was a rebound marriage and hasn't been anything since), but the scandal comes more from her "betraying" an IRA prisoner than a husband. This is all neatly introduced in an opening wedding ceremony in prison where the following reception is decidedly groom-less and later when the IRA men threaten a young guest for dancing with a prisoner's wife. Sheridan uses that to show that the women in this picture must put up a front where they continually support their men in prison, all of which is telling for the later scenes with Maggie and her behavior toward Danny.

    Their newly reborn romance kick starts the movie's main conflict and that's between Danny and Harry. While we learn a little about their previous "friendship," most of it's played down like the other backstory in the film (the teen romance, Danny's best friend who's now Maggie's husband whom we never see, etc...). I'm sorry, but if I went to prison for keeping my mouth shut about someone who then tried to kill me when I got out, I think I'd have a bit more of a reaction than Danny does. Of course all of that's present just to stoke the building pressure cooker, and Danny does his best to keep it under control.

    As in all of his previous roles, Day-Lewis delivers an impressive performance, and is quite believable as his character and as a boxer in his own right. Training with boxing consultant and former WBA World Featherweight Champion, Barry McGuigan for nearly two years, Day-Lewis looks and acts the part. He also creates a smoldering but nearly withdrawn character, and it's that very aspect that hurts our empathizing with him. Granted, it's what one would assume is a very accurate portrayal of a man who's been in prison for a decade and a half, but his reserved quality early on prevents us from really getting to know him and care for his plight (except from a distance).

    That eventually comes around as the story progresses, but our connection to him is never full. I believe that was intentionally done by Sheridan and writer Terry George to make us put ourselves into his shoes. By presenting how Danny's been treated and his reluctance to enact for what many would consider appropriate revenge, we subconsciously step in for him. That technique works, but it always keeps his character at arm's length from us.

    Emily Watson, who made such a big splash with her Oscar-nominated turn in last year's "Breaking the Waves," is also quite good in her role. Playing a woman caught in a less than desirable situation, Watson creates a sympathetic, and alternately weak, but also strong character. The supporting performances are all above par, even though Gerard McSorley is perhaps a bit too easily despicable as the villain, although his motivations are quite believable. Other stand-outs include Ken Stott as Danny's alcoholic trainer, and especially fourteen-year-old Ciaran Fitzgerald as Maggie's teenage son who's already been brainwashed into the IRA's terrorist ways.

    The boxing matches themselves are well photographed by two-time Oscar winning cinematographer Chris Menges ("The Killing Fields" and "The Mission"). Seemingly realistic and narrowly avoiding the stereotypical "Rocky" reversal scenes (where one fighter is nearly pummeled to death and then somehow miraculously pounds the other guy, who then has that same miraculous recovery, etc...), these sequences are decent but not tremendously compelling (mainly because the opponents are anonymous).

    Obviously the film uses boxing as a metaphor of the warring conflict between the Irish and the Protestants, and when Danny won't finish a pummeled boxer in the ring, it's symbolic of his withdrawal from the IRA and his general nonviolent stand (even though he's participating in a very violent sport). Of course Harry becomes his real foe, and Danny must then decide if and how he'll fight this formidable new opponent.

    While it all sounds very interesting and intriguing (some of which it is), it never seemed to quite click for me. The performances are all decent and the set-up is good, but I never felt the spark it just seemed as if something were missing. Obviously not everyone will feel that way, and many will love this film. Don't get me wrong it's good and there are several exciting and tense moments. Overall, however, the film never felt like it was running at full speed or on all cylinders, and thus leaves the impression that there could have been more.

    Some of that can definitely be attributed to the film makers conspicuously leaving so many blanks for us to fill in. We never know Maggie's husband, or much of what really happened between Danny and Harry. Likewise, the boxing matches are less than compelling since we know nothing about the opponents. Perhaps if given the chance to see the film again, I might feel differently. As it stands, however, and on a first impression, "The Boxer" rates as just a 6.5 out of 10.

    A film mixing elements of IRA terrorism and boxing will certainly have its share of blood and violence and "The Boxer" is no exception. While some will debate whether boxing is a sport or just a violent activity, we do see some pummeling of opponents as well as bloody wounds. The terrorist activities are no doubt violent (and at times suspenseful), and many people are killed and property is destroyed. With worldwide terrorist behavior on the rise, some parents may not like their kids seeing more car bombings, etc..., although this film certainly doesn't glorify those actions.

    Profanity is extreme with 30+ "f" words, and there's a moderate amount of drinking. Teens may sympathize with the lovers who are told they can't see other, but in this film the characters are adults and surprisingly (but thankfully, for it's become too much of a stereotype) there aren't any sexual scenes between the two. While it's questionable how many kids will want to see this film, you should probably examine the content before anyone in your family goes to see it.

  • Some IRA members drink beer.
  • People drink at a wedding reception.
  • When Danny first sees Ike after his release, the older man's drunk.
  • People drink at several different boxing matches.
  • Harry and other IRA members drink.
  • Ike and some older men on the street drink, and Ike's later drunk.
  • We see a rather bloody man on the street after an explosion.
  • Danny's nose is a little bloody after Maggie smacks him.
  • Danny's face is bloody during a boxing match.
  • Several people are bloody after being wounded during a riot.
  • Danny's bloody again during a boxing match.
  • We see a dead man with a bullet hole in his forehead.
  • Both Harry and Danny are bloody after getting into a fight.
  • A man who's been shot is bloody.
  • Obviously the pro terrorist members of the IRA have extreme cases of both.
  • Harry has both as he's not only one of the above, but he also wants Danny eliminated even though he took the rap and served prison time for Harry.
  • Joe puts pressure on Maggie telling her she has to "get rid" of Danny.
  • Liam participates in some bad behavior (throwing Molotov cocktails, burning down the boxing center) stemming from his dislike of Danny.
  • A riot breaks out where much fighting occurs and some viewers may find that tense.
  • Ike's boxing center burns down and he and Danny try to save some items from it.
  • Liam runs up to a body in the street that soldiers think may be booby-trapped.
  • Harry and others cut off Danny, Maggie and Liam in their car. Harry smashes Maggie's window and Danny gets out and beats Harry's head onto the car many times. Others then arrive and beat up Danny and take him away.
  • Harry and his men prepare to execute Danny.
  • Machine Guns: Carried by the British troops and fired at a building where a sniper gunshot came from.
  • Rifle: Anonymously fired at Danny while practicing.
  • Bombs: Used by the terrorists to blow up buildings, cars, and injure or kill people.
  • Phrases: "Balls" (testicles), "Bastard," and "Pissed away."
  • The terrorists use bombs to make their political and social points.
  • Liam and other kids throw Molotov cocktails at police/soldiers during a riot. Later, people throw the same at fire engines.
  • Liam and other kids decide to burn boxing clothing and gear donated to them by the police. All of that catches on fire, as does one of the kids for a moment, and then the whole building burns down.
  • None.
  • There is a mild amount of tense music in only a few scenes.
  • None.
  • There's the possibility that more profanity could be present, but with the heavy Irish accents, some words and/or lines of dialogue are hard to understand.
  • At least 34 "f' words, 8 "s" words, 7 hells, and 4 uses of "Jesus Christ," 3 uses each of "For God's sakes" and "Jesus," and 1 use each of "Oh my God" and "Dear God" as exclamations.
  • A young guy dancing with a young woman puts his hand inside the back of her pants but is then stopped.
  • Some minor characters smoke in a cafe.
  • Harry smokes as do other IRA members.
  • Maggie and her son, Liam, must deal with the fact her husband/his father is in prison. Liam wonders if his father will ever come home, and is then upset when he thinks that his mother is going to leave with Danny.
  • A woman finds her husband who's just been shot.
  • The IRA and its activities.
  • Some IRA members threaten a young man for dancing with a prisoner's wife, and moments later his mother smacks him on the back of the head.
  • An explosion destroys several buildings and vehicles parked outside them. Additionally, some people are wounded and others are assumed to have been killed.
  • Maggie smacks Danny for leaving her fourteen years ago (to go to prison).
  • Some viewers may find the many boxing scenes (including some where people are rather pummeled) as violent.
  • A gunshot blasts through Danny's window while he's practicing. Moments later, machine gun fire hits another building from the original shots were fired.
  • A car bomb kills a police officer.
  • A riot breaks out and police/soldiers fight with the rioters. Many people are clubbed, punched and kicked.
  • Liam and other kids throw Molotov cocktails at police/soldiers during a riot. Later, people throw the same at fire engines.
  • Liam and other kids decide to burn boxing clothing and gear donated to them by the police. All of that catches on fire, as does one of the kids for a moment, and then the whole building burns down.
  • Ike throws his liquor bottle at Harry and several other people.
  • We see a man who's been shot in the forehead.
  • Harry and others cut off Danny, Maggie and Liam in their car. Harry smashes Maggie's window and Danny gets out and beats Harry's head onto the car many times. Others then arrive and beat up Danny and take him away.
  • A man is shot execution style.

  • Reviewed December 10, 1997

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