The Boxer

Belfast. With the troubles in Ireland still unresolved, this film uses the metaphor of a battling character designed by director Jim Sheridan to embody one man's fight in a turbulent world so involved with self-propagation to get itself under control. Sheridan attempts to resolve his own life, past, and private thoughts in the films he makes. In the meantime, he has created, along with an almost ensemble group who are frequently seen in the projects, a series of sensitive portraits that give food for thought.

The Boxer
© 1997 Universal Pictures International
© MVSP Publicity/Promotion/Public Relations
photo: Frank Connor

Danny Flynn (Daniel Day-Lewis) was little more than a boy when he wound up in jail as a result of his association with the IRA. Now, 14 years later, he returns to a world that has left him behind, but hasn't changed much in the meantime. No easy answers, just a portrait of a man who's had lots of time to think and reconsider his struggle in a world that takes too little time to do the same. Because he is a quiet man with internal conflicts, no one, not even the girl he still loves, is aware of exactly what goes on in Flynn's head. Maggie (Emily Watson), the girl in this case, is the daughter of an IRA leader who married one of Flynn's friends and having a son while Danny was under lock and key. Her husband has also been carried off to prison in the meantime. Danny's return loosens the restraints on emotions whose expression have lain dormant for some time. The political community doesn't take kindly to such infidelities and protects the wives of those in lock up by aggressively dealing with all potential situations.

The focus of this film, however, is the determination of a man to lead a normal life despite the endless turbulence both within and surrounding him. His viewpoint has altered and matured and he has no intention of letting it get him down again. Unfortunately, director Sheridan hasn't quite flounced out the story extensively enough. The viewer is left with a frustrated and unresolved feeling at the end of the film which is not due to the issues or events being dealt with, but by too abruptly reaching a close.

Beginning life originally as an attempt to tell the tale of Irish World Featherweight Boxing Champion Barry McGuigan, the script evolved into a fictional tale that leant itself more easily to the kind of changes and diversions director Sheridan prefers. Writer Terry George created a new script based upon an earlier screenplay of Sheridan's, who then made further alterations during shooting. It's possible that Sheridan's method of constantly changing the script on location while working toward an unresolved end, while creating excitement with realistic edges, encountered some difficulties on this occasion in finding an appropriate way to exit. It's almost, one could say, as if the movie should have been 20 minutes longer. While not gripping attention as he did in films like "My Left Foot" or "In the Name of the Father" this time around, Sheridan nevertheless creates an interesting work that stands on its own as an intimate tale of the troubles.

Sheridan explains his method of work by saying, "I essentially think that great acting is also great scriptwriting - but this isn't as anarchic as it seems. If a story becomes really structured, I fear it will be too predictable. On the other hand, if an actor has to fight for the character, then it becomes a mixture of the actor's perceptions and mine." Daniel Day-Lewis is as flawless as ever. Emily Watson gives another striking performance as Maggie while displaying more facets of her chameleon-like nature. Brian Cox adds another strong performance to his already impressive list as IRA leader Joe Hamill.

Boxer McGuigan coached Day-Lewis for two years prior to filming and six months during production, explains that his personal vision of boxing means "you must face questions about your courage, your nature. Ultimately, it's about character. Ninety percent of the people in boxing are great guys, very ethical and upstanding. The training and the conditioning of your own mind makes all the difference. It makes you a better person." The results of his training are visible in the film (,but I suggest you don't get into a fight with Danny boy if you can avoid it.)

It's a gutsy film that gives an impression of what can happen in one man's life given these circumstances. No solutions or pretenses; just a portrait of a private reality like a fist in your face to open up some eyes. When will the peace finally come?

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett