The Irish Republican Army takes it on the chin in writer/director Jim Sheridan’s new drama, THE BOXER, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Emily Watson. This suspenseful, well-acted movie has excessive foul language but moderate violence. Sheridan justly condemns the oppressive violence of IRA thugs and any other extremists who sabotage all peacemaking efforts in Northern Ireland. He wraps this worthy message, however, around the story of an adulterous affair containing an unbiblical view of marriage.
Day-Lewis plays Danny Flynn of Belfast, a once-promising professional boxer sent to a British prison for 14 years after helping the IRA fight the English. As Danny explains in the movie, he just got tired of seeing the English brutalize his Catholic neighborhood in their attempts to quell the ethnic strife with the Protestants. When Danny sees that his former neighborhood is filled with concrete barriers and hatred, he joins up with his old friend, Ike Weir (Ken Stott), to re-create their old Holy Family Boxing Club which used to welcome both Catholics and Protestants.
Danny also reunites with his former lover, Maggie, played by Emily Watson. Danny did not ask Maggie to wait for him when he went to jail, so Maggie got married and bore a son with another IRA soldier who also eventually went to jail. Maggie’s father, Joe Hamill, heads the political wing of the IRA. Joe is trying to arrange a peace settlement with the British in exchange for the release of some IRA prisoners.
Although Maggie and Danny’s relationship in the movie does not become overtly sexual, it angers her son, Liam, and the head of the IRA’s military wing, Harry (Gerard McSorley). Harry is also upset by Ike’s attempts to unite Catholics and Protestants through the boxing club. Without Joe’s approval, Harry arranges the murder of the Protestant police force’s Director of Community Relations during the height of a benefit match between Danny and another boxer. The murder breaks the preliminary cease-fire arranged by Joe, and a riot ensues, leading to the boxing club’s destruction by some very young arsonists, including Maggie’s son Liam. Liam is upset by his mother’s betrayal, in thought if not so much in deed, of his imprisoned father.
Tension mounts between Danny and Harry and his henchmen. Danny loses a fight in London because he refuses to continue fighting his opponent when the referee won’t stop the fight after Danny’s opponent clearly can’t continue without serious and perhaps fatal physical damage. Harry calls Danny a quitter, and Ike defends his friend by calling Harry a coward. Harry murders Ike, precipitating a final showdown between Danny and Harry at the end of the movie.
The acting in this film is as good as you’re likely to see anywhere. Daniel Day-Lewis and Emily Watson turn in excellent performances as the two romantic leads, Danny and Maggie. Their faces delicately portray a full range of emotions just waiting to burst forth. Day-Lewis seems to falter only once in his portrayal, in the scene where his character displays his biggest rage against Harry and his henchmen. Both he and Watson are wonderfully supported by a strong gamut of other fine performances, especially the engaging, tragic portrayal of good-hearted Ike by Ken Stott.
Besides the unnecessary use of excessive obscenities and profanities, three major weaknesses stop THE BOXER from being a full success. First, the film fails to depict the Protestant side of the conflict in Northern Ireland, thus depriving its audience of a complete understanding of the situation. Secondly, the film says nothing about any of the possible religious aspects of the conflict. It doesn’t even tell us how the people in Belfast might use their religious beliefs to cope with the violence and strife. Finally, the movie provides no real explanation for why Danny and Maggie believe it is okay to violate her marriage vows by resuming their romance. Of course, she is legally entitled to a divorce because of the length of her separation from her husband, and Danny and Maggie were lovers before she married her husband, but none of this is clearly presented in the movie. Also, the audience has no idea why Maggie became estranged from her imprisoned husband. This not only is hazy character motivation, it also undercuts any moral justification for Danny and Maggie’s renewed relationship. All of these flaws mar the otherwise excellent quality and morality of director Sheridan’s efforts.
(B, C, Ab, ACap, LLL, VV, N, SS, A, M) Moral worldview opposed to sectarian & ethnic violence in Northern Ireland with some minor Christian references but containing an unbiblical view of marriage as well as negative portraits of sectarian Christians; 35 obscenities & 6 profanities; moderate violence including two brutal boxing matches, two terrorist bombings, man executed in back of head, arson with child arsonist getting burned, hero physically beaten & threatened, & scenes of a major riot; upper male nudity; depicted adultery & one seduction attempt but no fornication or heavy petting; alcohol abuse; and, miscellaneous immorality such as inciting to riot, intolerance, undermining peacemaking efforts, & violating the rule of law.
Daniel Day-Lewis and Emily Watson wonderfully portray two Catholic lovers who antagonize some extremists in the Irish Republican Army in director Jim Sheridan's new movie, THE BOXER. Day-Lewis plays ex-convict Danny Flynn, a once-promising professional boxer who tries to effect reconciliation among Catholics and Protestants by rebuilding a nonsectarian gym with his old friend Ike. Danny also tries to rekindle his romance with Maggie, played by Emily Watson, even though Maggie is married to a jailed IRA soldier. Both activities anger the IRA's military director, who disrupts the cease fire arranged by Maggie's IRA father.
THE BOXER tells the story a man who has the courage to take a moral stand against political terrorism in the midst of an undeclared war. However, besides the unnecessary use of excessive foul language, three major weaknesses stop THE BOXER from becoming a full success. First, the film refers only slightly to the Protestant aspects of the conflict in Northern Ireland and makes some of the Catholic IRA members out to be religious bigots. Secondly, the movie says nothing about any of the religious aspects of the conflict. Finally, the movie provides no real explanation for why Danny and Maggie believe it is okay for her to abandon her imprisoned husband and resume their romance. All of these flaws mar the otherwise excellent quality and morality of THE BOXER.