With the force of an expert punch, The Boxer precisely (and bluntly) delivers its emotional story, effectively drawing the audience into a world where violence and hatred are ingrained into individuals and society.
Just as Danny Flynn (Daniel Day-Lewis) is released from prison after a 14-year stint, a cease-fire is being negotiated to bring a respite to the sectarian violence and cycle of killing that have come to define life in Belfast, Northern Ireland. But a negotiated peace (which means learning to compromise and embrace one-time enemies) turns out to be as fragile as a slim olive branch in a gale-force wind.
As writer-director Jim Sheridan and co-writer Terry George proved with In the Name of the Father, they know how to tell a story that fires up the emotions. In the case of The Boxer, what they don't know is how to engage the mind as strongly as the heart.
Once a promising boxer , Danny was imprisoned for an IRA-related incident. After he went to prison, his girlfriend Maggie (Emily Watson) married his best friend and had a son before her husband, too, was jailed for political violence.
As Maggie has discovered, the role of the IRA prisoner's wife &emdash; who becomes a symbol of self-sacrifice to not just a man, but a cause &emdash; is another form of bondage, with behavior strictly regulated by her husband's compatriots on the outside.
But the details of Danny's crime are never revealed (it's even alluded that he took the fall for someone else) and Maggie's husband isn't heard from or even shown. These, and other omissions, detract greatly from the force of The Boxer, as does the filmmakers' decision to set up a number of thorny conflicts only to have love simply conquer all.
But what makes The Boxer as potent as it is are the performances, especially Daniel Day-Lewis' contained powerhouse. His Danny is a closed-off man, shadowboxing with his private demons, who comes painfully, but gloriously, back to life.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].