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Movies about the Irish "troubles" make up a canon unto themselves; and this one, directed by Jim Sheridan, who contributed to the body of work already with In the Name of the Father, and who thus may have felt he needed to correct the balance, justifies its existence with a new angle of emphasis on the enforced fidelity of the wives of political prisoners, making them into prisoners themselves of sorts, as well as with the unique use of the title character -- the title profession -- as a symbol of peace and co-operation, mutual understanding and brotherhood, nonpartisanship and nonsectarianism. That might sound ironic, but it works well enough in context: the story of an ex-convict, jailed in the first place as an IRA collaborator, who tries to pick up his life fourteen years later as a loner. Daniel Day-Lewis, with a Charlton Heston-esque bump on the bridge of his nose, carries himself with surprising assurance as the Strong Silent Type, lapsing only once, and with startling contrast to his prevailing stoicism, into one of his trademark arias of agony. The obligatory onslaught of publicity yarns about his "preparation" for the part (under the tutelage of Irish pugilist Barry McGuigan) is not at all intrusive on screen: his high-speed rope-skipping appears prodigious -- the rope, if that's what it indeed is, instead of some computer-generated semblance of same, or some gas-powered Weedwacker, is a blur -- and his shadowboxing is credibly quick and compact. His gory battles against actual opponents, however, are shot with a rocky camera so close to the action that his level of skill ceases to matter, and his existential moment-of-truth in the ring falls back on Raging Bull-ish clichés of amplified sound and slow-motion. The movie attempts to forestall the inevitable charges of sentimentality by putting that very word, or its shorter adjectival form, in the sneering mouth of the bitter-end mad bomber -- and who wants to side with him? As a tactic, it's a touch transparent. Emily Watson, Brian Cox. (1997) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R

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