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[1 997. Directed by Jim Sheridan. Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson, Brian Cox. Universal Pictures. 107 mins.] ft Q ítü The Boxer's omnipotent grayness s its most poignant element. For even more so than n Jim Sheridan's previous In the Name of the Father, there's an understated foreboding that's refracted through every scène of the movie. The cinematography ref lects the menacing sadness and heavy angerto be found in the constant war of nerves in present-day Northern Ireland. Sheridan's sympathies in the film are also of a neutral gray. His view is neither pro-lrish or pro-British, nor is it pro-Catholic or pro-Protestant. He instead aligns himself with the people of Belfast irrespective of their politics or religious farth. The Boxer indicates he believes they've created for themselves a worid of senseless prejudice that's making it increasingly diff icult for them to surmount a generation of fratricidal warfare. Boxer Danny Boyle (Daniel Day-Lewis) was once a solid contender in the ring. But he was also a paramilitary Irish Republ can Army soldier and this choice of dual occupations resulted in a 1 4-year prison sentence that put him long out of circulation. It'sobvious upon his release, that whatever chance he once had of succeeding as a fighter is neariy beyond him. And as such, he only wants to retum home to his privacy where he can resume sparring on the local level and rebuild a nonsectarian gymnasium with which he was affiliated before his arrest. Boyle'sex-girtfriend.Maggie (Emily Watson), has given up on him and finally married by the time he returns to Belfast. But through a cruel irony, her IRA-affiliated husband is now imprisoned, and he's left her with a young son to raise. Maggie's father, Joe Hamill (Brian Cox), is an IRA leader and it falls on him, through his responsibility to the militia, to remind her that the IRA's code of conduct requires that she be above reproach at all times. After a brief reacquaintance, this restraint turns out to be more difficult than either BoyleorMaggie could have realized. And to make sure that they clearly get the IRA's message, Hamill 's recalcitrant, psychopathic ieutenant, Harry (Gerard McSorley), makes life difficult foreveryone involved. Hamill must ultimately make a decisión concemíng the couple's future while weighing the consequences of the blind hatreds fostered by Ulster's inflammatory politics. Given the potential histrionics of the film's story line, Sheridan's hand is remarkably restralned. In contrast to Neil Jordan's sometimes simplistic Michael Collins (which was, admittedly, an easier subject to handle given its partisan nature and redressing of early 20th-century Irish history), Sheridan's take on contemporary Northern Ireland is resolutely noncommittal. The trials of Ulster serve as a vividly dangerous backdrop for his characters' troubles. What's most lifelike in The Boxer's intense story is the almost unbearable psychological tensión with which Belfast's politics mangles each citizen's life. Henee Sheridan's use of gray as the film's thematic motrf . For if this dimmest of colors paints a world that's unremittingly grim, it's because Sheridan's visión of Belfast's prospects is equally grim. Through its clever use of the most primitive of athletic events as its framing device, Sheridan's The Boxer doesn't pull any dramatic punches. This emotionally muted drama heightens the tragedy of Ulster's probable star-crossed future. WhatresultsfromBoyleandMaggie'sattemptto find happiness is a story that carnes an exceedingly timely wallop. JACKIE BROWN [1997. Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forester. Miramax Films. 154 mins.] & ■ Buried somewhere deep within this twoand-a-half hour movie is a potentially exciting film. The source material, Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch, may not be the most innovative of his oeuvre. Indeed, Gei Shorty, for example, is more engaging and wryly unpredictable. But it's a Leonard story nonetheless ... and this is generally more good than bad. Instead, Jackie Brown represents one of the oddest transformations any major Hollywood film director has undergone in so brief a period of time in recent memory. Because even if Quentin Tarantino avoided a sophomore slump a few years back - and Pulp Fiction is about as f ar f rom a slump as anyone could ever hope for - he seems to have lost his footing in some rather alarming ways with his third directoral effort. Tarantino's now familiar verbal asides are still intact - as is his sometimes questionable sense of black humor - yet the film is clearly tired. And it's certainly more tired than any film directed by a healthy man in his mid-30s ought tobe. Perhaps some of Jackie Brown's visual stasis should be attributed to cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. But no cinematographer alone paces the rhythm of a film. Instead, the larger problem lies in Tarantino's adapted script where nearly all the story's action has been replaced by dialogue. Tarantino's so enamored with his written word, he's seemingly forgotten we're watching a movie. Granted Reservoir Dogs had a similar problem. But in the justly famed warehouse sequence where the now infamous bungled robbery is reconstructed, Tarantino used nonlinear devices such as flashbacks and multiple perspecti ves to keep us slightly off -bal anee. Jackie Brown by contrast seems created by the mate cimema couch potato. The film's switch-and-bait plot conceming a bagful of ill-eamed loot is executed limply. Even the overblown presence of Samuel L. Jackson's gun-running Ordell Robbie, and Pam Grier's slightly-past-her-prime Jackie Brown, don't energíze the movie. And while Robert Forester, as bail bondsman Max Cherry, gets the obligatory Tarantino career boost, the fomiidable trio of Michael Keaton, Robert DeNiro and Bridget Fonda are only used enough to get their ñames prominently positioned on the theater marquee. Indeed, the film has already start ed to lose ts momentum by the time Robbie has f inally caught on to Jackie's duplicitous maneuvering between himself , Cherry and Federal agent Ray Nicolette (Keaton). By the time the gun-runner finally connects the dots there's still 90 minutes before the inevitable fade to black so Tarantino's reduced to filling time with non sequíturs, inside jokes, and some admittedly prime 1 970s sounds from Bobby Womack, the Commodores, and Brothers Johnson. Perhaps using anothersource material, rather than developing his own narrative, constricted Tarantino's imagination. Or perhaps he merely developed the project to finally get something through Miramax's production pipe. In either regard, Jackie Brown reflects afilmmaker whose sense of dramatic timing is distinctly off kilter. For even the film's antt-climax is distressingly, rather than provokingly, anti-climactic. Tarantino seems dwarfed by his previous track record. Having written and directed one of the cult caper classics of all-time, and written and directed one of the undeniably seminal films of the 1 990s, Jackie Brown seems more than a bit tentative. Buttentative is also something dedicated film viewers are preparad to endure occasionalry. After all, Orson Welles mostJy made a living this way teasing his audience with this sort of off-and-on brilliance for almost half a century. Jackie Brown's inconsistencies instead represent something else. With a slack hand behind the project; a poorty conceived and largely unpolished script; and a resounding lack of thematic resolution, the film utterly lacks conviction. Tarantino's latest effort reflects a master who doesn't seem particularly enamored with his art I RATING KEY $r Acting H Cinematography Direction 3E Editing Ln Narrative Sound Special Effects When a symbol appears tollowing a titie, it implies that the corresponding category s a strength of the movie.


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