Having made a powerful movie four years ago about the Troubles in Ireland with In the Name of the Father, writer-director Jim Sheridan, co-screenwriter Terry George, and Sheridan’s favorite actor (and Oscar winner for My Left Foot) Daniel Day-Lewis reunite in The Boxer (Universal) with a mellower political message that translates, roughly, into ”Can’t we all just get along?” Sure, Day-Lewis, as Danny Flynn, does hard prison time for the IRA again. But Danny, released after 14 years, isn’t bitter or angry. If anything, he’s dead inside, and just wants to get back in the Belfast boxing ring (a homegrown nonsectarian joint where Catholics and Protestants are both welcome to bellow while watching men pummel one another), where at least he can begin to feel pain — which counts as something.
Ah, but when he went to jail, Danny didn’t just lose his freedom; he also lost his girl, Maggie (Emily Watson), who has since married Danny’s best friend — in jail himself — and borne a son. And now that Flynn is out, those passions for Maggie start stirring again — which is dangerous, since prisoners’ wives must be moral models, and political passions continue to run violently high.
The Boxer teaches that the path to a peaceful resolution of an old, old conflict can be covered only in steps as tiny and alert as a fighter’s practiced footwork. Inevitably, then, Sheridan and George (who made his own statement with 1996’s Some Mother’s Son) dance in place a fair amount in this iteration, which is neither as striking as Father nor as heavy-handed as Mother. Still, there is something welcome in the moderate stance — neither religious side is going to pack up and vanish, so get used to it — something maturely measured. (That’s not to say violence doesn’t erupt; blood flows and men fight mean with their gloves off.)
Besides, the principals are innately likable. Day-Lewis, famous madman for meticulous preparation, bulked up and trained hard to become Danny, but athletic training alone doesn’t account for the impact of the character’s emotional reawakening. Watson (the arresting child-woman from Breaking the Waves), meanwhile, imbues Maggie with such exhaustion-tinged tenderness that only a bloody fool wouldn’t fight for the right to accept her love. B+
— Lisa Schwarzbaum
The Boxer Starring Daniel Day-Lewis Emily Watson RATED R 110 MINUTES