Picks and Pans Review: The Boxer
In Private Lives, playwright Noel Coward has a character observe, "Extraordinary, how potent cheap music is." One is reminded of Coward's remark when, in The Boxer, spectators break into "Danny Boy" just before a Catholic boxer (Day-Lewis) takes on a Protestant opponent in strife-torn Belfast. "Danny Boy" may be as maudlin a song as was ever written, but it gets to you.
Which is pretty much what one might say about The Boxer, an old-fashioned romantic drama in which Day-Lewis plays a once-promising pug who, having spent 14 years in jail for a botched IRA operation, is trying to make up for lost time both in the ring and with the sweetheart (Watson) he left behind. (She is now married, but her husband, an IRA member as well, is conveniently away in the pokey himself.) Despite its overlay of political intrigue, The Boxer is basically Rocky in Belfast. Oh, it's smarter than Rocky (the first one, not the increasingly abysmal sequels), and Day-Lewis and Watson are far better actors than Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire, but The Boxer is still a movie about winning (or losing) a fight on your own terms, about love everlasting and about not letting anyone push you around.
And darned if it doesn't still work, though probably not as well as director Jim Sheridan and Day-Lewis—who collaborated on the much less conventional films My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father—might have hoped. As for the performances, Day-Lewis is as intense as ever, packing a punch both in and out of the ring. And the luminous Watson, Oscar-nominated last spring for her role as a sacrificing wife in Breaking the Waves, continues to impress. (R)