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Film Review: The Boxer

The Boxer (1997; Directed by Jim Sheridan)

For all its grim, late-Troubles-era sociopolitical realism, Jim Sheridan’s The Boxer fights to a stalemate. Perhaps it reflected the protracted stand-off in Northern Ireland at the time (which was nonetheless close to resolving itself, or coming as close to doing so as it ever could), but the film is as trapped and impotent as the circumstances it portrays.

Day-Lewis’ Danny Flynn is the simple, plain-spoken avatar of this inability to progress, both a living metaphor of years and generations of lost hopes and squandered opportunities and the fundamental embodiment of this ungainly traction. Day-Lewis and his romantic lead Emily Watson both manage some moments of searing intensity and occasionally penetrate the stiff membrane of their characters’ volatile world, but mostly they’re swept up in the flashy plot with its melodramatic twists, prisoners of the generic conventions more so than of the endemic social reality.

Sheridan has shot mid-’90s Belfast in drab concrete tones, the only brief stabs of colour provided by blood and flags. The boxing scenes play off as such scenes usually do in films, nothing less or more: sweating abdominals, the soft brutality of gloved blows, the white noise of the hooting rabble in the background. Neither Rocky nor Raging Bull closed their boxing match sequences with the assassination of a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, mind you. But that’s a distinction of context rather than of degree.

There’s certainly an attempt being made by Sheridan, Day-Lewis and their collaborators to convey a sort of utilitarian, working-class eloquence, but the result is constipated and pent-up and any pathos is fleeting. The Boxer is a film too invested in the effort to be important to bother being anything else for too long, which is unfortunate considering the talent involved.

Categories: Film, Reviews
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