WELCOME TO SARAJEVO - WAG THE DOG
FALLEN - GOOD WILL HUNTING - THE BOXER

WELCOME TO SARAJEVO

Michael Henderson is a veteran news correspondent who has covered the world's hot spots. It's 1992 and Michael is assigned to cover the siege of the city of Sarajevo, but his past has not prepared him for what he will experience in "Welcome to Sarajevo."

Robin ROBIN:
Director Michael Winterbottom, whose serial killer love story, "Butterfly Kiss," and most recent film, "Jude" (based on Thomas Hardy's novel, "Jude The Obscure"), received critical acclaim, has put together an original journalist-under-fire tale in "Welcome to Sarajevo" that rivals such films as "The Killing Fields" and "Salvador" in its intensity and believability. The docu-drama style, combining filmed footage, real video taken during the siege of Sarajevo (the longest siege in modern history), and docu-style video of staged events, is a seamless production. Winterbottom elicits tightly wound performances from all his cast, led by Stephen Dillane as journalist Michael Henderson, the film's central figure. It is a real ensemble of stories and performances, however, with Dillane ably supported by a talented international cast (Woody Harrelson, Kerry Fox, Marisa Tomei, Goran Visnjic, Emily Lloyd), with many different stories being told of the war.

The film captures the adrenaline rush that compels the newsgatherers to put their very lives on the line, no matter what the cost, to get the story. (More journalists were killed and injured covering the Bosnian civil war than any war in modern history.) Here in the US, we're normally so overwhelmed by the selfishness of the media, we forget that journalists - real journalists - have always put themselves in harms way to get the news. The typical cynicism we normally associate with the press today is refreshingly absent in "Welcome to Sarajevo," showing the newsmen in a positive, more participatory, light than we see with our domestic paparazzi and tabloids. The newspeople react and respond to the tragedy around them, they don't just report it.

Cinematographer Daf Hobson, using the combination of film footage and faux news video to nail down the documentary feel, conveys the gritty look of a city under siege. The fake news video footage, in particular, is shot with the same tensions as the real war video. The photography is a key player in the docu-drama, giving the film a real edge seen only in such film's as "Is Paris Burning?," though not near the scope of the 1966 film.

My sole comment, not criticism, on "Welcome to Sarajevo" is that Winterbottom and company are almost clinical in their depiction of the violence of the siege and civil war. It's as if they carried the docu side of the docu-drama a hair too far.

"Welcome to Sarajevo" is a fine film depicting a piece of world history that has not been seen before, at least, not in the US. I give it an A-.

Laura LAURA:
British director Michael Winterbottom ("Jude") combines dramatization and documentary footage to give a 'you are there' feel to his fourth feature "Welcome to Sarajavo." Stephen Dillane stars as war correspondent Michael Henderson, who, after a lifetime of covering war zones, is so moved by the events in Sarajevo that he smuggles a young Bosnian girl out of the country and adopts her. His character is based on Michael Nicholson, a British journalist who did just that and wrote "Natasha's Story" on which this film is based.

Winterbottom brought his international cast to Sarajevo to shoot the film six months after the Peace Accord had been signed. His crew had to sweep for land mines on location. He combines elements of horror, humor, barbarity and humanism telling this story with immediacy peppered with irony.

In addition to Dillane, the cast includes Woody Harrelson as Flynn, a hot dog American journalist, Australian Kerry Fox as Henderson's producer, Marisa Tomei as the American charity worker trying to save Bosnian orphans, Goran Visnjic as the Sarajevan employed by the TV crew as a driver, Emily Lloyd as a young journalist and 10 year old Sarajevan Emira Nusevic as the girl Henderson adopts.

Technically, the film is most impressive in its editting of real footage with staged events. When the crew races to cover a bread line massacre, the audience feels that it's right in the midst of a senseless slaughter and understands that the TV crews aren't callous to the events they're recording, but truly feel a need to show the world what's going on. After endangering themselves to capture events such as this, they frequently find that their stories are buried in their home countries' newscasts in favor of such leads as the separation of the Duke and Dutchess of York. Winterbottom often segues from these grainy scenes to bright color scenes of such every day life as a Sarajevan attempting to get water under sniper fire scored with such pop tunes of the day as The Stone Roses' "I Wanna Be Adored." The effect propels one into the events, making each life precious.

The film's second half deals with Henderson's escalating campaign to focus media attention on the plight of a Bosnian orphanage on the front lines where the children are largely fending for themselves. When he leaves with the Children's Lifeline bus and Emira, more horrors are visitted upon them outside of Sarajevo. Emira embraces an idyllic life with Henderson's family in England until Henderson discovers her mother is alive and wants her returned. This final coda to the film doesn't flow as well as the events which have led up to it, although a final shot of Henderson joining defiant Sarajevans at a peace concert on a hill provides a ray of hope.

B+


WAG THE DOG

Director Barry Levinson ("Diner") offers up a political satire based on the novel "American Hero" adapted by Hilary Henkin and David Mamet. When the president, two weeks away from reelection, is accused by a preteen girl guide of sexual misconduct, presidential aide Winifred Ames (Anne Heche, "Volcano") calls in penultimate spin doctor Conrad Bean (Robert DeNiro). Bean decides that diversionary tactics are in order and decides to invent a war with Albania. He wisks Ames off to Hollywood where he entreats producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to stage the event.

Laura LAURA:
"Wag the Dog" begins like gangbusters. Our heads are spinning along with Ames as the fast-paced by necessity planning results in one absurd idea after another is put into production - and work! Kirstin Dunst ("Interview with the Vampire") is cast by the team as an Albanian peasant fleeing her war torn village, kitten in arms, filmed on a Hollywood soundstage and broadcast as the real thing. Songwriter Johnny Green (Willie Nelson) is enlisted to come up with theme music to engage the American public and has problems finding a word to rhyme with Albania. Denis Leary and Andrea Martin are also brought aboard as Fad King and Liz Butsky to punch up the charade. When Senator Neal (Craig T. Nelson), the president's rival, declares the war over before Brean and Motss are ready, they invent a soldier who must be rescued from behind enemy lines and recruit an ex-GI played by Woody Harrelson. He turns out to be a convict serving time for having raped and murdered a nun!

The title "Wag the Dog" refers to saying that a dog wags its tail because the dog is smarter than the tail. In this case the American public is the dog, but it's the tail that's smarter.

Hoffman, starring in his second media-manipulation film in a row, is hilarious as the egotistical but brilliant Motss. Sporting a stylized brush cut and weird Hollywood ticks, Hoffman greats each escalating disaster as a challenge, commenting "This is nothing!" no matter how ludricous the situation. DeNiro is clearly having fun as the laid back spin doctor who understands, where Motss eventually doesn't, that their monumental, history changing lie must never be revealed.

Unfortunately, the film, which recalls such movies as "Being There," "Bob Roberts," and "Capricorn 12" begins to run out of steam when Harrelson's character is introduced. It's light and dark, quick stepping comedy becomes mired down by repetition and the feeling that we've seen this done better before.

"Wag the Dog" is funny and satisfying for about two thirds of its run time and features one of Hoffman's best performances, but ultimately it comes up a bit short.

B

Robin ROBIN:
In an almost throwaway effort, filmmaker Barry Levinson ("Diner," "Rain Man") took a 30 day production schedule and a $15 million budget and put together a biting satire on politics and the media in "Wag the Dog," starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro.

It's 11 days before the election and the President of the United States is caught up in a sex scandal with one of the visiting Firefly Girls, a Girl Scouts of America clone. His re-election team, led by Winifred Ames (Anne Heche), is certain of the president's defeat by conservative Senator John Neal (Craig T. Nelson), so they bring in the spin doctor of all media spin doctors, Conrad Brean, played by DeNiro. Brean, a consummate professional at fixing bad PR at the highest levels, acquires the talents of Hollywood producer, Stanley Motss (Hoffman), to help bail out the troubled chief executive. What ensues is a complex fake out involving nuclear bombs, B3 bombers, international terrorists and war with Albania. The trick is, none of it is real.

The president is desperate to be re-elected, despite his sexual peccadilloes, and will do anything to attain his goal. Brean, with the substantial power of the presidency at his disposal, creates an international crisis where there is none - Albanian terrorists are threatening to attack the US, via Canada, with a suitcase-sized, multi-megaton nuclear bomb. The crisis is exacerbated by denials of the existence of the B3 bomber (which really doesn't exist, but that doesn't matter), and staged footage of battle-torn Albania, all of which comes straight from the minds of Stanley, an image-maker extraordinaire, and Conrad.

There was little, if any, buzz on "Wag the Dog" before we saw it at a screening, so I walked in with open eyes and an open mind. I'm happy to say, Levinson has created a surprising quickie that satirically strikes out at our political system, the media (easy target) and the whole business of image versus reality.

The biting, witty script by Hilary Henkin and David Mamet, maintains its edge through most of the film. The last third, when Motss and Brean create a hero (Woody Harrelson as a psycho Army prison inmate) out of the non-war, the story takes a more slapstick turn that intrudes upon the satire delivered during the first hour. Dialogue is fast and furious as Conrad's PR team, including Denis Leary, Willie Nelson and Andrea Martin, dive into the task of saving the president's electoral skin from the jaws of his self-imposed scandal.

Music is an important part of the story, with Willie Nelson's songsmith, Johnny Green, writing the catchy patriotic tune, "The American Dream" (shamelessly pirated from "We Are The World") to help the clueless public to rally around the beleaguered president. A fake folk tune, "Good Old Shoe," is made up by Green and planted in the national archives as a legitimate 30's folk tune to lend authenticity to the PR manipulators spinnings. Musical contributions by Nelson, Tom Bahler, Huey Lewis and Marc Knopfler give the film a tuneful edge that compliments the satire.

Acting is top notch throughout, with a standout performance by Dustin Hoffman as Stanley Motss. Motss craves one thing - credit. As a longtime film producer, Stan has always existed in the shadows of the stars and directors whose films he made. Here, with the backing of the Office of the President of the United States, he has the chance to, finally, grab the glory for himself, big time. Hoffman, with swept back coif, is the epitome of the Hollywood producer - a fast-talking, fast-thinking image-maker - who enthusiastically embraces the task at hand. Hoffman's is the best perf in the film.

DeNiro, departing from his usual, serious acting efforts, gives a relaxed, amusing performance as the ultimate spin doctor. Conrad understands the system better than anyone, so, when things go wrong, his response is, "I'm working on it." When confronted with the total insanity of his scam, he replies, "So, who's going to know?" Conrad is totally self assured and DeNiro has fun with the character.

Anne Heche is fair as the president's PR flack, but definitely takes a back-seat to her co-stars.

The ensemble supporting cast - Leary, Nelson, Martin, Kursten Dunst, William H. Macey, Woody Harrelson and Crag T. Nelson - help to flesh out the background characters with professional ease.

Tech credits are almost rudimentary. The fast-paced production lends itself to boilerplate style of filmmaking, possessing a get-it-done attitude that has little finesse, but does the job neatly, if without note. The production companies of DeNiro, Hoffman and Levinson formed an agreement to put together this production for a pittance. Salaries, alone, would normally have more than eaten up the 15 mil budget, so this kind of cooperative effort could allow lower cost films to be realistically be made. Let's hope so.

I look forward to future collaborations such as "Wag the Dog" and give it a B.


FALLEN

Homicide detective John Hobbs (Denzel Washington) and his partner, Jonesy (John Goodman), have apprehended a demonic serial killer, attended his trial and witnessed his execution. The terror of the killer is forgotten until a series of fresh killings begins, killings that strongly resemble that executed killer's unique style. Hobbs leads the investigation only to find evidence against himself in the baffling mystery. The detective is led to seek the assistance of a theology professor (Embeth Davidtz) to learn one overwhelming truth: pure evil is eternal and knows no bounds in "Fallen."

Robin ROBIN:
"Fallen" is the perfect example of what modern horror films are oft times guilty of - all style and no substance. In what is, technically, a well-crafted film, director Gregory Hoblit ("Primal Fear") and writer Nicholas Kazan ("Reversal of Fortune") have put together a visually intriguing film with some truly spooky moments. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between. The original story, by Kazan, is lazy in its attentions, telegraphing most of the end results early in the film, taking away any excitement and mystery "Fallen" might otherwise have. The screenplay has a great central theme of pure evil, but execution is far too obvious.

Denzel Washington, a fine actor, is wasted as the homicide cop hunting the demonic killer. He is relegated, mainly, to walking around his city in bewilderment as he is constantly has to figure out whose body is possessed, at any particular moment, by the demon, Azazel. Washington is stalwart, but has little to do to stretch his character.

Supporting cast is underutilized, at best. John Goodman is set up from the very beginning to be the final incarnation of the devil that Hobbs has to face. Donald Sutherland is used as a McGuffin to distract the viewer from the "real" demon up to the very end of the film. James Gandolfini ("True Romance") is also set up as a sinister force, but this is also just distraction. The lack of a distinctive bad guy (bad demon?) hurts the film overall.

One positive story note: Azazel's ability to transfer from one body to the next by a touch is neatly handled, particularly in one scene, as the devil tries to possess a theologist (Embeth Davidtz) helping Hobbs. Azazel "chases" the professor through a crowded street by touching from one person to the next, like dominos falling. It's a truly tense moment, but the film's excitement is limited to these handful of moments. Another scene has Hobbs confront Azazel, with the demon playing games with the cop, transferring from one body to the next, taunting the policeman all the time. Unfortunately, a couple of scary scenes does not make a good horror film.

Production values get high marks with photography and art direction solid. The handling of the killing scenes is far less gruesome than in such films as "Seven." "Fallen" is almost tasteful in its depiction of the aftermath of violence.

It looks good, but tastes totally bland, like a tofu milkshake. I give "Fallen" a C.

Laura LAURA:
Fallen" starts off well enough, with Elias Koteas ("Exotica") obviously up to something supernatural when he's visitted in his jail cell by the cop who put him there, Detective John Hobbs (Denzel Washington). His bold attempts to shake Hobbs' hand through the bars while chanting in an ancient tongue are laughed off by Hobbs as gibberish. The audience soon sees what the maniacal killer was up to when, still defiant in the gas chamber, his spirit ironically passes to his executioner at the moment of his death.

It's then up to Hobbs and his partner (played by John Goodman) to figure out why a series of copycat killings have begun and why the first victim appears to have been killed by the second victim who Hobbs also recognizes as having passed on the street. Hobbs' initial clues are all too derivative of "Seven" - writing behind mirrors on the victims' walls leads him to a former homicide detective who apparently committed suicide in a remote cabin in the woods after some sort of scandal. Chasing down this clue, Hobbs meets the extemely jumpy theologist daughter of the man (Embeth Davidtz) who warns him away from the case if he has any family (Hobbs lives with his saintly, lightly retarded brother and nephew). Eventually, this woman who lives in an apartment entirely decorated by angels, tells him about Azazel, the fallen angel who wrecks havoc with humans, can pass from one human to another by touch and likes to sing Rolling Stones songs.

"Fallen" has high production values with interesting sepia visuals that are often reminiscent of "The Crow's" crow-vision. The art direction is very good, if a bit odd, never establishing a real sense of place (what I thought was meant to be San Francisco was actually Philadelphia!) or time (everybody's apartments appear to be furnished out of the 50's).

"Fallen" also has some genuinely creepy moments, but the entire concept was executed with much more flair in the very low budget "The Prophecy."

The performances are OK, although John Goodman has been stereotyped back to his role in "Barton Fink" - it's readily apparent that Hobbs' partner will become a foe before the end of the film. Donald Sutherland is just plain weird as Lt. Stanton. James Gandolfini provides some humor as another homicide cop.

"Fallen" is just too derivative when all is said and done and the ending is a huge letdown, having telegraphed itself way ahead of time and betraying any promise the movie showed in its earlier stages.

C+


GOOD WILL HUNTING

"Good Will Hunting," directed by Gus Van Sant ("Drugstore Cowboy," "To Die For"), stars Matt Damon in the title role as a dysfunctional young genius whose potential is recognized by MIT math professor Jerry Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard, "Breaking the Waves"). Will is a chronic troublemaker, now facing prison for inciting a street brawl. After, initially, balking at getting help from anyone, he agrees to be released to Jerry's custody to explore Will's genius, on the condition that he seek psychiatric council. Will chews up one shrink after another until, finally, he meets his match in Sean McGuire (Robin Williams).

Laura LAURA:
"Good Will Hunting" is one of those films where even though you know how everything will turn out at the end, the getting there is worthwhile. The biggest surprises are that local Cambridge boys Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have written such intelligent dialogue at such a young age and that they managed to get their film produced with Gus Van Sant ("Drugstore Cowboys," "To Die For") directing and Robin Williams co-starring.

The film, which was shot on location in Cambridge and Southie, tells the story of Will Hunting, an untrained mathematical genius who's discovered by MIT Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard, "Breaking the Waves") when he solves a complex problem left as a challenge on a hallway blackboard. Lambeau appears at the young janitor's court date (Will was arrested for street fighting) and persuades the judge to release him if he undergoes therapy. Will, always on his guard, mocks one highbrow therapist after another until Lambeau decides to take him to his old underachieving college roommate and Southie native Sean (Williams). There begins a cautious friendship and dual healing process between Will and Sean (not to mention the healing of a rift between Lambeau and Sean).

There's also a '"Love Story" in reverse' love interest in Skylar (Minnie Driver), a wealthy British Harvard student Will intrigues by outwitting the snobby Harvard intellectual who tries to discourage Will's attentions to her in a Harvard Square watering hole. The group of buddies Will has always hung with - best friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck), Morgan (Casey Afflect) and Billy (Cole Hauser) flesh out Will's background and give sense to Will's reluctance to rise above his troubled roots.

Damon's created an interesting character for himself, always believable. He should become a prominent leading man after this and his star turn in "The Rainmaker." The acting of Ben Affleck as his best buddy grabbed me the most, however. His portrayal of Chuckie as a rough and tumble wiseacre who can turn around and offer both profound blue collar wisdom and true friendship is heart wrenching but never sentimental. Robin Williams has never been better in a serious role. The rest of the cast is solid if not particularly remarkable.

Van Sant proves here that he can direct a commercial film along with his quirkier independent offerings.

If "Good Will Hunting" has a message, it's that one should never be afraid to reach for the moon no matter what the obstacles - it's the American spirit personified.

B

Robin ROBIN:
"Good Will Hunting's" screenplay, by Damon and co-star Ben Affleck, is a predictably positive rags to riches story along the lines of "Charly" and "Little Man Tate," but with an edge. The outcome of this tale is telegraphed from the start, but taking the ride to the end is what's compelling about "Good Will Hunting". Will is a complex, incredibly intelligent character. We're talking a mathematical IQ in the gazillion range - he's not one in a million, he is one in a century. Unfortunately for Will, he is a blue collar orphan without formal education raised in abusive foster homes and has never realizes his own potential.

Some of the what I term "speechifying" - Will putting down a snobby grad student, Sean telling about he met his wife - is done in rapid-fire manner, with the deliveries of the speeches being better than the speeches themselves. Speechifying is tough to do right and they do it right, here.

Will, a janitor at Boston's MIT, is happy just to be around students and have access to the vast wealth of information at the university. (Will reads volumes on advanced quantum theory faster than a speed reader taking in a Danielle Steele novel.) His book-learned knowledge is vast, with his main intellectual focus on higher math, but his emotional makeup is anything but mature. The abuse he suffered as a boy marred his emotional development, making Will a dysfunctional, trouble-seeking young man.

A problem, publicly posed by professor and award-winning math wizard, Jerry Lambeau, is anonymously solved, in minutes, by Will. Intrigued by the nameless genius, Jerry sets a trap, discovering the identity of this brilliant wizard of mathematics. He uncovers both a genius and sociopath and is faced with harnessing the former and controlling the latter. Stellan Skarsgard gives an understated and believable performance as the academic who sees the sham of his own genius in light of his discovery of Will.

Matt Damon, along with his previous showing in "The Rainmaker," has had himself a real good year as an up-and-coming star. He shows a lot of talent and on-screen presence. Damon is a natural young talent with the easy-appearing ability to communicate Will's troubled, orphaned background. He also conveys Will's intellect, one that's mighty enough to allow him to cross cerebral swords with Boston's best psychiatric talent, until Sean McGuire, played by Robin Williams, a Bunker Hill Community College Psych-101 professor, takes on the troubled young man. Sean lost his wife to cancer two years ago and he is in the process of trying to reassemble his own life. Intentionally or not, Jerry propels two very potent forces on a collision course of uncertain results.

Gus Van Sant has appended his name to the least Van Sant film I've seen to date. He is a hired gun in this effort showing virtually none of his usual signature. He directs in a working class manner that is maintained through the entire film. It feels more like a collaboration than an auteur work. Van Sant lets his actors, and the screenplay, take the forefront.

Supporting cast, though limited, is likably led by Ben Affleck as Will's longtime friend Chuckie. Chuckie's one wish is, when he stops by every day to pick up Will for work, is that his genius friend has moved on to the life he deserves. Gratifyingly, Chuckie gets his wish. Affleck is quite remarkable in an understated role, know Will without being able to fully understand his friend's gift. Affleck is on my long list for Academy notice this year.

Robin Williams gives his best performance to date as borderline dysfunctional psyche professor and healer, Sean McGuire. He anchors the film, allowing Damon, as Will, to have a believable foil to his out-of-control genius. Williams is top billed, but I can see him getting supporting actor kudos at this year's end.

Minnie Driver, as Will's object of affection, does a solid job as the wealthy, smart student, Skylar.

I give "Good Will Hunting" a solid B.


THE BOXER

Jim Sheridan completes his Belfast trilogy ("In the Name of the Father," "Some Mother's Son") with "The Boxer," starring Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis as the title character and Emily Watson as his estranged love. Danny Flynn was sent to prison for his IRA involvement when he was 18 years old. He left Maggie behind to marry Danny's best friend, who was subsequently imprisoned, too. Now, 14 years later, Danny is released from prison and returns to his old digs to try to rebuild the life ruined by political strife.

Robin ROBIN:
Director Sheridan combines the incredible acting talents of Day-Lewis and Watson with a compelling personal drama set against the backdrop of the tenuous cease-fire arranged between IRA leadership and British negotiators. The stability of the cease-fire hinges on government's willingness to release the IRA prisoners held by the Brits, so tensions are high among the militant IRA, where factions for and against the truce are forming. The Troubles, plaguing the north for three decades, have forced a cynicism upon the inhabitants of Belfast that gives them no choice but to endure and live.

Danny, after 14 years of sacrifice for The Cause, keeping his silence during his years in prison, wants to get his life back. He is smitten with Maggie, still, and reopens his Holy Family Boxing Club in the community center where she works just to be near. Maggie is the "wife of a prisoner" and that responsibility carries the weight of the IRA's enforcement of the wives' chastity. Danny and Maggie know the program and walk a very fine line between breaking the rules and not.

Daniel Day-Lewis is an extraordinary actor who throws himself into all his roles. Witness his powerful, physically demanding performance as Christy Brown in "My Left Foot." As Danny Flynn, Day-Lewis gives a solid performance as a man who has locked his emotions deep inside for many years in prison. He wants things back the way they were and strives for it, even if it is impossible. Day-Lewis, who trained for six-months with Irish Featherweight Boxing Champion Barry McGuigan, looks every bit the Irish scrapper in the ring. The training shows in the too few fight sequences. These scenes show the intensity of the ring and the metaphor it is to Danny's life.

Emily Watson, who I just watched in her incredible debut, "Breaking the Waves," absolutely illuminates the screen with her presence. The love story between Danny and Maggie may be a little too forced to be believed, particularly the pureness of their devoted love, but the efforts of the two key players is superb. Watson is an uncommon talent.

Supporting cast is uniformly solid with a nice turn by Brian Cox as Joe Hamill, a local IRA leader and father to Maggie. Joe walks his own tightrope as he tries to keep the peace between the out-of-control militant left and the moderates who are tired by the 30 year struggle, while negotiating the end of the fighting with the British. Joe also has to deal with the iffy behavior of his daughter, Maggie, and Danny. Ken Stott as Danny s trainer and faithful friend, Ike Weir, is a tragic and sympathetic figure who, quite literally, dies for his boxer friend and idol.

Cinematography by Chris Menges ("The Killing Fields," "Michael Collins") is crisply done throughout from the scenes of IRA violence to those in the ring.

"The Boxer" lacks the political passion of "In the Name of the Father," but has a sweet, chaste romance wrapped around its politics. I give it a B+.

Laura LAURA:
Writer-director Jim Sheridan ("My Left Foot," "In the Name of the Father") reteams up with star Daniel Day-Lewis for their third collaboration, "The Boxer." Day-Lewis is Danny Flynn, released from prison for good behavior after spending the last 14 of his 32 years as an IRA 'prisoner of war.' The woman he loved, Maggie (Emily Watson of "Breaking the Waves"), married his best friend and had a son in the intervening years and now finds herself a 'prisoner's wife,' sanctified by the IRA as untouchable. It doesn't help that her father Joe (Brian Cox) is the head honcho of the IRA in Belfast.

Danny meets up with his old coach Ike (Ken Stott) and together they attempt to rebuild the Holy Family Boxing Club, a non-sectarian youth sports club that's viewed with contempt by the more stringent wing of the local IRA which is headed up by Joe's right-hand man Harry (Gerard McSorley), even as Joe himself is in the process of arranging a peace agreement that would ensure release of some of his POWs.

"The Boxer" is a quieter, more introspective film than "In the Name of the Father," but still packs a powerful punch. Day-Lewis smolders as Danny and looks every bit the fighter, but you can see his soul in his eyes when he's with Maggie. He makes his new found pacifism more courageous than the violence that's been his community's legacy. Emily Watson is luminous as Maggie, who wants Danny more than anything but is shackled by the needs of her son and the image she must uphold in the community. The two have great screen chemistry.

Brian Cox is strong as the tough old IRA chief who realizes that change is essential. The choices his character makes are surprising. Cox resembles a more muted Albert Finney in this role. Ken Stott is touching as the alcoholic coach who's enthusiasm for Danny's plan is overplayed, resulting in tragedy. McSorley is a bit too one note as the IRA bully, although Eleanor Methven makes her mark as his wife.

B+


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