The Boxer

on December 31, 1997 by Joseph McBride
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   As up-to-the-minute as today's newspaper headlines, "The Boxer" is a thoughtful though emotionally rather dry film about the current attempts to bring peace to Northern Ireland. Director Jim Sheridan and writing partner Terry George, who previously teamed on "In the Name of the Father," work again with Daniel Day-Lewis, fiercely believable as Danny Flynn, an ex-IRA member whose pacifism makes him a marked man to die-hard extremists among his former cohorts.
   As a fitting (if rather baldly presented) metaphor for the peace process, Sheridan and George have given pugilist Danny his own nonsectarian boxing club, with which he hopes to uplift Belfast youngsters while bringing Catholics and Protestants together. The club soon becomes a literal flashpoint for trouble, incurring the wrath of an IRA firebrand (Gerald McSorely) who can't let go of the idea that only violence will bring the British to their knees.
   Danny, who has just returned from 14 years in prison, is courting Maggie (Emily Watson), daughter of the local IRA leader (Brian Cox). Her father supports peace but tries to keep Danny away from Maggie, whose husband is still a political prisoner. Watson offers a fine, sensitive portrait of a woman torn by competing family allegiances, while Day-Lewis' tightly wound introverted character remains somewhat opaque, although the actor gives another searing performance.
   The conflict between opposing IRA points of view is vividly dramatized, without reducing either to simplistic rhetoric or caricature. "The Boxer" examines the moral dilemmas standing in the way of peace for those who have spent most of their lives fighting for independence and socioeconomic equality. The interdependence of personal and political issues is deftly drawn, but the film is so carefully cool and measured that it lacks the fiery passion of its own characters.    Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson, Brian Cox, Ken Stott and Gerard McSorley. Directed by Jim Sheridan. Written by Jim Sheridan and Terry George. Produced by Arthur Lappin. A Universal release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 112 min.
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