It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"The Boxer" is the latest of Jim Sheridan's six rich stories about Ireland, and in some ways the most unusual. Although it seems to borrow the pattern of the traditional boxing movie, the boxer here is not the usual self-destructive character, but the center of maturity and balance in a community in turmoil. And although the film's lovers are star-crossed, they are not blind; they're too old and scarred to throw all caution to the wind.
The film takes place in a Belfast hungering for peace. It stars Daniel Day-Lewis (also the star of Sheridan's "My Left Foot" and "In the Name of the Father") as Danny Flynn, an IRA member who was a promising boxer until he was imprisoned at 18 for terrorist associations. Refusing to name his fellow IRA men, he was held captive for 14 years, and is now back on the streets in a city where Joe Hamill (Brian Cox), the ranking IRA man, is trying to negotiate a truce with the British.
Danny was in love as a young man with Maggie (Emily Watson), Hamill's daughter. After his imprisonment, she married another IRA man, who is now in prison. IRA rules threaten death for any man caught having an affair with a prisoner's wife; Danny and Maggie, who are still drawn to each other, are in danger--especially from the militant IRA faction led by Harry (Gerard McSorley), a hothead who hates Hamill, fears Danny, and sees the forbidden relationship as a way to destroy them both.
Danny Flynn is no longer interested in sectarian hatred. He joins his old boxing manager, an alcoholic named Ike (Ken Stott), in reopening a local gymnasium for young boxers of all faiths. And he goes into training for a series of bouts himself, becoming a figurehead for those in the community who want to heal old wounds and move ahead. The story, which is constructed in a solid, craftsmanlike way by Sheridan and his co-writer, Terry George, balances these three elements--the IRA, boxing and romance--in such a way that if elements of one go wrong, the other two may fail as well.