Rated R - Running time: 1:48 - Released 12/31/97

In the United States, we pride ourselves on our freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion. The Boxer, written and directed by Jim Sheridan (co-written by Terry George), is a powerful illustration of how different things are in Northern Ireland, where a simple opinion can cost you your life.

The boxer in question is Danny Flynn, played by Daniel Day Lewis, who has just been released from a Belfast POW facility after a 14-year stay. His crime had been failing to implicate a group of his pro-Republican compatriots who had participated in a terrorist bombing. For this he had been taken away from his family, his burgeoning boxing career, and his girlfriend Maggie (Emily Watson) who had married someone else and had a child, Liam (Ciaran Fitzgerald). In the intervening years, Liam's father has also been imprisoned, so Maggie is alone with him and her father, Joe Hamill (Brian Cox), who serves as chief IRA negotiator with the hated British government. Although Danny and Maggie still have feelings for each other, being seen together can be dangerous, since she is the wife of a prisoner. Even pre-teen Liam, who has his own developing sense of politics, is afraid that his mother might break the strict code of ethics imposed on her by the situation.

Joe is respected by many for his tireless efforts toward achieving peace, but there is a strong faction, headed by a man named Harry (Gerard McSorley), that holds such animosity for the Protestant British that segregation is the only outcome suitable to them. Peace is seen as a weakness — a betrayal of the dead. Harry, although he officially defers to Joe, has difficulty concealing his disgust for anyone committed to a peaceful outcome of the struggle, in which his only son was killed.

Upon Danny's release from prison, he intends to rebuild the town's decrepit Holy Family Boxing Club and resume his career. He wants to offer a place for young boys, regardless of sect, to get involved in sports rather than killing. He finds his old trainer, Ike Weir (Ken Stott), who holds similar political beliefs, and they start training the local interested youth, including Liam. But when the first match is held, they take time to commemorate local boxers from both sides of the fence slain in the struggle, many of whom were just boys. This angers Harry and the other IRA hardliners, and sets in motion a series of events which threatens the tenuous cease-fire that has already been achieved by Joe's negotiations.

This film is a satisfying marriage of a thoughtful screenplay, insightful direction and a powerfully skilled cast. It is obvious that the issue at hand has great meaning for those involved, because emotions run high from the very beginning, although they are subdued or repressed at first. One gets a real sense of the anguish the Irish people must live with every day as a result of this terribly bloody conflict. Lewis and all the actors do a superb job as they translate Sheridan's eloquent script to their relationships.

For some, The Boxer will be a powerful lesson in current international issues; for others, simply an excellent evening of thought-provoking entertainment. For all in this country, it should be a reminder that freedom is not to be taken for granted. *****

Copyright 1997 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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