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Boxer, The (Collector's Edition) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 July 1998

The Boxer

Universal Home Video
MPAA rating: PG-13
starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson, Brian Cox, Ken Stott
release year: 1997
film rating: Three stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

Despite its title, ‘The Boxer’ is ultimately less about pugilism than about the combative footwork of politics in North Ireland.

The title character, 32-year-old Danny Flynn (Daniel Day-Lewis), is newly released after having spent 14 years in jail for his part in RA violence. Danny has long since turned his back on the cause, but his refusal to name names to the police means that he is grudgingly tolerated by his former compatriots. Danny almost immediately gets in new trouble, however. He supports his old trainer Ike (Ken Stott) in a plan to establish a non-sectarian gymnasium in the heart of Catholic Belfast and he wants to woo back his old sweetheart Maggie (Emily Watson). Maggie is not only the daughter of a high-ranking IRA official (Brian Cox), but she’s also the wife of Danny’s still-imprisoned former best friend. Prisoners’ wives are local heroines – but only as long as they remain "above reproach." Danny also dreams of resuming the boxing career that ended when he went behind bars.

Director Jim Sheridan and his co-writer Terry George present a persuasive view of a culture that is in some ways universally urban and conservative,, yet one in which the rule of the gun is an open secret. There’s a hint of the gangster movie to ‘The Boxer,’ with its threat of far more than social censure lying in wait for those who transgress against the unwritten laws.

The romantic angle of the story is appealing, both because Day-Lewis and Watson are charismatic performers and because, after a period of adjustment, the characters address each other with becoming candor. The film also has conviction and clarity when dealing with the multi-leveled, morally ambiguous climate of a cease-fire between the various factions on all sides. Sheridan and George illustrate, for instance, how the gift of a few t-shirts and boxing gloves to underprivileged children can throw a whole neighborhood into an uproar of controversy.

Boxing itself, however, is a more elusive metaphor than it should be here. Perhaps viewers who are aficianados of the sport will see a clearer connection between the sparring in the ring and the bobbing and weaving done by Danny’s former associates, but apart from the obvious – they’re both forms of fighting – the analogy remains murky. There’s a discussion to be had about how the lack of rancor between boxing contestants contrasts with the unforgiving fury on all sides of the armed conflict in Belfast, but ‘The Boxer’ doesn’t engage in this on a narrative level.

Visually, the DVD faithfully preserves the slate-blue hues of the theatrical version, a steely look so pervasive that when the yellow of a lamp or a splash of red blood appears, it’s almost as startling as the little girl in the red coat in ‘Schindler’s List.’ The music reproduction in Chapter 1 is powerful, with deep, round medieval bell tones providing a literal note of ancient roots to the surrounding mournful techno-pop. The sound levels jump a bit at times – the music fades down to accommodate dialogue in a bar scene, then leaps to compete with the noise of a helicopter when the next shot is of a prison perimeter. Chapter 4 is the most egregious example of abrupt level changes between shots within the same scene – it’s not enough to require volume adjustment (at least, it wasn’t for this viewer), but it’s noticeable.

Chapter 5 has an interesting and startling effect when a distant bomb goes off – a thud that we and the characters register without being overwhelmed, rather than something more dramatic but less realistic. Chapters 7 and 10 have arguably the most sinister swooshing jump-rope noises to be heard this side of a martial-arts film; it’s only training practice, but the amped-up whistling of the rope through the air creates a relentless, menacing aural image. The film is at its loudest in Chapter 20, with a more traditional-sounding explosion than the one in Chapter 5; however, music soon sweeps in the muffle all but the initial moments of uproar.

We become emotionally involved in Danny’s adventures because he’s a principled and ultimately likable man and we are gripped by his milieu because it is brought to convincing life, but ‘The Boxer’ seems to be trying to invest the sport with a symbolic significance that eludes it here.

more details
sound format:
DTS 5.0 Surround; Dolby Surround
aspect ratio(s):
special features: Chapter Search
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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