A dull waste of Emily Watson and Daniel Day Lewis's talents, The Boxer is a romance-cum-IRA-drama that fails as either, largely due to slipshod characterization and horribly cliched plotting. For all its focus on the Troubles, there's little work needed to turn this to a cloyingly sentimental forties film about a reformed gangster returning back to his still crime-riddled neighborhood. We have all the tropes one would expect of such a film -- the former Mentor, now a Drunken Waste; the Suspicious Youth, who eventually sees our hero as a Father Figure; the gruff but ultimately good-hearted Capo and his untrustworthy Lieutenant who has a Personal Score to settle; and the Old Flame Who Still Burns.
The utter lack of originality could be forgiven if there was any spark of life to the film, but there is simply none. The boxing scenes are flat (they're pathetic compared to the likes of Raging Bull or the opening sequence of Broken Arrow), there's little spark between Danny (Day-Lewis) and Maggie (Watson), and the Lieutenant, Harry, is a cartoon villain, all sneering and malice aforethought. Worst is Maggie's son Liam -- he burns down the boxing gym and despises Danny for replacing his father. Thirty minutes later, he's gazing starry-eyed at Danny, and apparently all concerned have forgotten the existence of Maggie's husband.
While the melodramatics are thankfully played in a minor key, (except for one stomach-churning use of "Danny Boy"), the hoariness of the screenplay only undermines the urgency of Sheridan and George's concern -- how can I care about Belfast when I'm wondering how Bing Crosby would look in boxing shorts?