(Jim Sheridan, Ireland/US, 1997)
Let me hurry to get on the record that I'm madly in love with Emily Watson. And Daniel Day-Lewis ain't bad either. The best thing about this movie is the cast, and the second-best thing is everything else. I'm not super-familiar with Sheridan's work (previously I'd only seen In America, which I recall as being solid but mawkishly tainted) but I feel familiar enough now to assert that he is a mightily talented director who works wonders with actors (as in all cases, the cardinal rule being though shalt know how to cast) and is a dyed-in-the-wool storyteller, and that he has a lapidary eye for movement and color.
As wonderful and soulful and sexy as the film's first couple are, it would be a dire mistake indeed to overlook the enormous contributions of the rest of the cast - it really is an ensemble affair. This is exactly the kind of highwire act that seems woefully rare in contemporary cinema - it's a classical story about love, loyalty, family - in other words, a classic expansive melodrama, with a political subtext that's neither overbearing or defanged (although it comes close to defanging, on the latter side of the spectrum) featuring strong, three-dimensional characters and with just enough suspense. This is something that Hollywood should be able to crank out with some regularity, but it doesn't. Don't get me wrong - I'm not getting all goopily nostaligic about the Golden Era, but simply making the observation that the talent exists in writers, directors, DPs, editors, all the way down the line - but instead, we get bullshit like The Blind Side and Righteous Kill. This is the exit for a lengthy digression, which I'll avoid, but the point is crucial - The Boxer isn't a mindblowingly awesome film. It's just a very, very good film - it's sincere, it's stylish, it's smart it is perhaps best described as being very, very solid. Why don't these come down the pike with more regularity?
***The politics are well-handled, I think, but I really don't know enough about "The Troubles" to say how risky or not-risky that element of the story is. It is a bit on the feel-good side, in that it focuses on the "why can't we all get along" entreaty of the naive a bit too ingenuously, and elides many of the relevant facts (again, I'm aware of only the most basic of these facts) but I think it basically has its heart in the right place***