The Boxer (1997)

Director Jim Sheridan (In America, In The Name of the Father) says this at the end of a featurette:

They say "all is fair in love and war," well, if there's a conflict between the two, love wins because it comes first.
Essentially, this is the point of the film.

We are thrust into the drama of prison wives in Northern Ireland. Their husbands are IRA POWs and they are left supported in this kind of regimented way to ensure that they are faithful to their husbands. Next, a couple of dissident Irish are added to the plot, dissident to the IRA and the fighting.

To be honest, I never gave much attention to Northern Ireland. I didn't know anyone personally from the area and there isn't anything I can do to effect change there. I understood the situation clearly enough, but I couldn't give you a clear account of each of the four main political forces. (this afternoon, a friend told me that some major progress has been in the news lately - I'll have to read up on it) This film ensures that you don't need to know those forces to be drawn into the story. What we see are people in extraordinary circumstances.

Sheridan is a genius at casting top actors. With lesser actors, the film would have appeared melodramatic, though the writing is very good. Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson (one of her earliest films), and Brian Cox deliver amazing performances. The family dynamics are solidly portrayed too.

The Boxer is a love story, not a sex story, and I appreciate that very much. Sheridan is a master of drawing out dignity in ignoble situations. Boxing is a side story which subtly and powerfully depicts the poor, the divisions, and the passion in a Belfast suburb. The film is not about Irish culture or Catholicism or Protestantism or freedom. These all play in the background as multiple antagonists. There are rich moments of public raw emotion, both tolerance and deep-seated hatred. There is the clash of decency and perceived indecency.

Treachery is cultivated on several levels: marriage, army, country, friendship, parent-child, rules of the game. Without seeing the film, some of the story line may seem cliché, but I didn't find it such at all, as I mentioned, the acting prevented that from happening. Everything that occurs appears plausible.

And the most gripping is the undercurrent of something so foreign, that there is a war on, but you're not in a WWI trench or a WWII barracks or in a submarine. The war is happening in your neighbourhood. The film becomes fantastical in this way, bordering reality. And that's what films are for.


No comments: