Young "Danny Boy" Flynn (Daniel Day-Lewis) was a promising boxer in Belfast. His life was looking good. He had a wonderful girlfriend, Maggie (Emily Watson), and nowhere to go but up. Then he joined the IRA. He was later arrested, and sent to jail.
Fourteen years later, Danny returns to Belfast from prison to find a changed world. Maggie married his best friend, another IRA member now in jail. The Holy Family boxing club where he used to spar has dissolved, and his former trainer, Ike (Ken Stott), is now a doddering alcoholic.
But Ireland has changed too. Maggie's father, Joe Hamill (Brian Cox), is an IRA leader who wants peace, as do the British. Negotiations are tenuous, however, and Joe's hard-line lieutenant Harry (Gerard McSorley) would prefer the violence to continue.
Enter Danny. He doesn't want to have anything more to do with the IRA... too many have died for his liking. He tries to restore the good parts of his old life: bringing back the Holy Family boxing club, and renewing his relationship with Maggie. However, neither of these are approved by Harry's hard-line faction. The Holy Family is a non-sectarian club, and Maggie is a "prisoner's wife", aka untouchable.
Jim Sheridan directs The Boxer without the immediacy that marked his prior collaborations with Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father). For his own part, Daniel Day-Lewis has devoted himself completely to the role in the usual fashion. His boxing scenes are entirely convincing, and you never doubt either his political convictions or his later regrets.
The romance with Emily Watson works, though it never seems as scandalous as it is made out to be. Part of the problem is that her absent husband remains a complete enigma. The only relevant information we are given about him is that he used to be Danny's best friend. However, neither Danny nor Maggie seem hesitant in the least to rekindle their relationship.
Director Sheridan walks the line in this film, taking neither side in the Irish conflict, instead condemning those who would prolong the violence. However, his film paints a truly fragile picture of the peace.
The Boxer is different from most other films about the conflict in Ireland in that it is neither a historical retelling, nor is it a paean for one side or the other. Instead it is a plea for peace, concerned primarily with ending the violence.
[R - for language and some violence] (Universal)