Day-Lewis and Watson look great together; they create drama just by walking side by side through East Belfast. With his chiseled leanness and her imploring eyes and thick mane of hair, they're perfectly matched. Their pairing may not have the blessing of the IRA, but it answers to a higher power.
But having put these two together, Sheridan doesn't draw out their best possibilities. Danny is sullen for too long, and his scenes with Maggie at times have a conventional Hollywood movie-star ardor. It's almost as if Sheridan conceived The Boxer as a cross between a political semidocumentary about The Troubles and an old Warner Brothers prize-fighting melodrama, with perhaps some On the Waterfront thrown in. Danny's protracted strong-silent act has its depth charges, but it's also a little dull.
Still, Day-Lewis is such a remarkable actor that you never for a minute believe this man is anything but a boxer. You can see how Danny would want to feel pain in the ring again, if only to bring some sensation back into his life. Day-Lewis is poised for a great performance in The Boxer, but the script isn't up to his weight class. He's upstaged by the way the film dwells on IRA machinations and the look and feel of the Belfast streets, and as well done as that material is, it's nothing new. It can't compare to what might have been: a full-scale performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as an Irish raging bull -- a rebel with a cause. There are still traces of greatness in what he attempts, and it's more than enough to make the movie worth a lingering look.
Directed by Jim Sheridan. With Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson and Brian Cox.