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. *****
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