This film draws inevitable comparisons with 1993's 'In The Name Of The Father' - both are directed by Jim Sheridan, star Daniel Day Lewis and deal with the conflict in Northern Ireland. 'In The Name Of The Father' seems to get the lion's share of the praise, perhaps because it is based on real characters and events, but it would be a mistake to overlook 'The Boxer'.
Danny Flynn (Daniel Day Lewis) has just been released from prison after serving fourteen years for his part in IRA activities. He wants to distance himself from his old associates and live without the violence that stole over a decade of his life. He re-opens the boxing gym in Belfast where he trained as a young man. His aim is to teach the youth of the area something other than hatred. The fact that he insists the gym be a non-sectarian venue, along with the disposal of semtex explosive he discovers while renovating the community center, puts him on a collision course with the IRA. His pursuit of the woman he left when he went to jail (who is now married to another IRA member doing time in prison) does not help.
It's hard to believe a sport as violent as boxing can be used to promote peace but it has qualities that others do not. Honour being one of the most important (as demonstrated in Danny Flynn's London boxing match). So powerful are the feelings of sportsmanship and respect that the first boxing match brings to the community, the more radical members of the IRA see it as a great danger to their cause, and rightly so. The sport is used wonderfully to intertwine the various messages and plot strands of the film.
I've heard the 'The Boxer' described as being difficult. This is not a completely unfounded accusation because any film about Northern Ireland is going to be complicated. Add to that the visual look of the film, very bleak and bleached of colour, it can be pretty tough going.
I don't pretend to be an expert on the troubles in N. Ireland but I know it's not as black and white as some would have you believe so it's to director Jim Sheridan's credit he doesn't paint it as such. By focusing on a small community and the effect the conflict has on them, the film can be politically unbiased, but still put across it's ideas. What are they? Well, each viewer may take something different away from the film, so I won't presume to think it will speak to everybody in the same way.
The performances of Emily Watson and Daniel Day Lewis are excellent. I've not been a fan of his more over the top performances in the likes of 'Gangs Of New York' and 'There Will Be Blood' so it's great to see him play Danny Flynn with such understatement and thoughtful intensity. They've also got strong support from the likes of Ken Stott and Brian Cox.
'The Boxer' is not always a pleasant watch, but it's magnetic in every way possible. Anyone willing to put off watching the latest overblown blockbuster for a night to watch this instead will be greatly rewarded.
THE DVD: Two commentaries, one by director Jim Sheridan, the other by the producer. Deleted scenes and an alternate ending. A behind the scenes featurette. Biographies, production notes and a trailer round out the impressive selection of extras. The sound is in Dolby 5.1 and the picture is 1.85:1 widescreen.