Ken Stott is funny and touching in the best Walter Brennan manner as Danny's former manager and sidekick. And Brian Cox is equally wily and haunting as Maggie's dad, an IRA chief who pursues a negotiated peace. Cox conveys the difficulty and pain behind his decision: He knows he's changing courses and confusing his followers. His leonine head sags; his mouth twists down as if in expectation of disaster. But the hope that militants can lay down their arms fuels his actions -- and, indeed, the film.
This complexity with-in simplicity is apparently what unhinged Slate. Pundit James Surowiecki, a fumbler when it comes to movies, recently lumped The Boxer in with a slew of pictures ostensibly soft on the IRA. To judge his credibility, consider that Surowiecki also declares that In the Name of the Father positioned an IRA leader as "the one person in prison who stands for authority and justice." In fact, the movie pilloried him as a coldblooded killer, and held up the hero's anti-IRA father as the actual moral authority. To the cinematically dyslexic Surowiecki, even a classic like Carol Reed's wrenching, masterly Odd Man Out is one more "pro-IRA" movie, though it's based on a famous anti-revolutionary novel about a dying Irish rebel who spends his last hours mourning his bloody misdeeds. (Aesthetic judgment aside, you'd think a credited business writer would believe in giving accurate accounts.)
The Boxer is a wonderful movie because it recognizes that even a morally scarred IRA warlord may wish to transcend the gory politics of bombs and guns. Danny forces Maggie's dad to confront the price of militancy; the boxer's eloquence lies in his rough-hewn humanity, and in how he cherishes the IRA boss' daughter. This movie is not primarily about political or pugilistic muscle. It's about flesh and blood. And love.
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