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March 14, 2008 |

By Ted Boynton | Boozehound Cinephile | March 14, 2008 |

Pop culture item consumed: In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, The Boxer, a 1997 film starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the titular pugilist, who happens to be a former IRA operative. As the film begins, Lewis’s character is released from prison following a 14-year term for his part in IRA violence. OK, Sarina, you want to deflate the happy-go-lucky Irish stereotype? Well, this is your film, darlin’. As for the rest of youse, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but there’s about as much drinking in The Boxer as there are leprechauns skipping down the street; you’ll have to make your own fun, ya’ fookin’ droonks.

Beverage consumed: An embarrassment of riches in the form of a taste-off among three Irish whiskeys: Jameson, Bushmills Original, and Tullamore Dew. I was going to try Paddy (the Irish whiskey, not Pajiba’s virtual chanteuse), but couldn’t locate a bottle on short notice. Irish whiskey is not my favorite flavor of whiskey — that honor belongs to bourbon — but it is a fuel that burns clean, and I do love it. The whiskey was consumed with an equally stellar complement of Harp and Guinness chasers, which are essential for Irish whiskey in my opinion.

For the uninitiated, let’s be clear that Irish whiskey is absolutely its own beast; completely different from Canadian whiskey, single malt Scotch, rye, or bourbon. Indeed, I ha’ ne’er tay-sted anny-t’ing loyke it. According to Wikipedia, “the main difference is that most Irish whiskey is distilled three times, whereas most Scotch is distilled only twice.” When reached for comment, noted local drunk socalledonlycousins stated, “Yeah, geniuses, and another key difference is that they taste nothing like each other.” Despite not being solicited for further comment, socalledonlycousins added, “fucking Wikipediots.”

Special Shout-Out: This Boozehound edition would not have been possible without the contributions of PaddyDog, who recommended various no-doubt-awesome Irish whiskeys that were about as easy to find as unicorn testicles — people stared at me suspiciously over a 24-hour period in response to my requests for bottles of booze that apparently require an American Express Plutonium Card to obtain. We forgive, however, because Paddy inspires me to drink Irish whiskey. Irish women are something wonderful to contemplate: a long-suffering, high-pain-threshold breed that honors an opposite gender that, by comparison to noble example, looks like complete pussies on a daily basis. Women of Pajiba, I give you Paddy. Men of Pajiba, stay the fuck away.

Having said all that, let me reveal to you something awful: Paddy told me that the Irish, on a voluntary basis, drink their own goddamn whiskey with a splash of something called “Red Lemonade.” Aside from the historically bad moniker, this substance also apparently is in the same Rob-Zombie-type family as “ginger ale.” Dear Irish people: WTF?

Guinness Side Note No. 1: There was a time when I thought that Guinness in a can was a Deuteronomy-level abomination against The Lord. After a few tries, however, I’ve come to accept it, much like that summer fling I had with my second cousin when I was 14. Mmmm, French-kissing a blood relative … mmmmm. If feeling up a distant, unfamiliar, impressively be-racked cousin is wrong, I don’t want to be right, at least not in the eyes of the Arkansas judiciary.

Guinness Side Note No. 2: Is there a more unique-tasting beer than Guinness? It’s not my favorite beer, despite my high regard for it. Newcastle Brown on tap, Grolsch mini-keg, Stella Artois enema … there’s no shortage of beers I love more. But Guinness is, I think, the most unique flavor I’ve run across — despite a lot of trying, I’ve never drunk a beer that tasted anything remotely like Guinness. Discuss, heathens.

Summary of action: To the extent any film starring Daniel Day-Lewis can be a “small film,” The Boxer is that film, a lean two hours of subtle character study wrapped in a not-so-subtle tale about “the troubles” in Ireland. The Boxer picks up with the release from prison of formerly promising boxer Danny Flynn (Day-Lewis), imprisoned at age 18 for his part in an IRA bombing, leaving behind his 16-year-old lover, Maggie (Emily Watson). While in prison, Flynn refused to be part of the IRA culture while also refusing to rat out other IRA soldiers for a reduced sentence, earning him the respect and suspicion of both sides. Upon his release he returns to the same apartment building where he lived before, a stone’s throw from Maggie, as well as the same community center where he learned to fight and where he became a local hero for his skills; the same community center where Maggie works as a daycare worker. Stop me if you don’t see where this is headed.

Of course it’s not long before Danny runs afoul of both Maggie and the IRA — 14 years in prison turned Danny into a Fucking-A javelin (man, I am using a lot of italics tonight), and while we’ve certainly seen Determined-Ass-Kicker-Man in other films, none of them had Daniel Day-Lewis ploughing the road. When Danny decides that something is right or wrong, well, by god, that’s where we’re headed, and I have rarely felt as inspired by a film character as I am by Danny Flynn. Danny’s mission — which he only comes to appreciate through the impact of his own actions on those who love him — is to bring Protestants and Catholics together through the community center, teaching young people to simply exist next to each other as they learn the sweet science. The fact that his love for Maggie is fucking up her IRA leader father’s attempts to bring peace talks to a successful close … well, what’s more important than love? Stop me if you don’t see where this is headed.

More’s to the point, do you like primal man-woman archetypes? Because Day-Lewis and Watson lay down a fucking clinic on how to portray two lovers who are so at once at ease and not at ease in each other’s presence, so much the essence of resigned love, that Adam and Eve could have just saved us all a spot of trouble by observing their example. These are two people cruelly denied their youth, trying to salvage some patch of potential, something that feels right. It’s not long till they’re sneaking off for a chaste hand-holding here and a portentous conversation there. A film that deserves its own Underappreciated Gems entry, The Boxer doesn’t just showcase Day-Lewis and Watson, it puts them together in a way that shames modern screen couples who can’t approximate Bogart-Bergman levels of compatibility. Stop me if you don’t see where this is headed.

The Boxer has so many things going for it that it’s hard to understand why the film wasn’t more commercially successful at the box office, grossing only $16.5 million worldwide and only $6 million here in the States. At the time of its release, Day-Lewis had in his back pocket both a Best Actor Oscar for My Left Foot and a smash-hit historical action movie, The Last of the Mohicans. Despite being only a year out from the disastrous The Crucible (insert Winona Ryder joke here), Day-Lewis appeared to be bona fide Hollywood catnip. And don’t get me started on Emily Watson, who at the time was coming off her critically acclaimed turn in Breaking the Waves, another underappreciated gem. I’m sure you all get tired of hearing ol’ Ted proclaim, “O, how I love [fill in the blank with magnificent, unconventionally attractive B-list actress].” Well, eat it: O how I love Emily Watson. What about co-star Brian Cox? He’s in the Boozehound Hall of Fame, bitches, not only because he is an absolutely fabulous Uber-Ham Extraordinaire, but also because he appears to be completely fucking polluted in every film he’s cast in. I’m pretty sure he was born drunk.

The Boxer is also an admirable film because it’s got some lessons for you. For example, did you know there’s an entire sub-culture of “prisoners’ wives,” a concept that appears to hold numerous Irish women in a prison of chivalric, oppressive admiration for their being widowed by men sent to prison for IRA activities? The film opens with the wedding of a free Irish woman to an imprisoned IRA soldier, followed by an outside reception at which not just the suffering bride but the other “prisoners’ wives” are honored for their sacrifice. One such sufferer is Maggie, Danny’s former childhood sweetheart. Danny chucked it all at age 18 — a boxing career, knocking boots with 16-year-old Emily Watson — to take out some British soldiers, only to see Maggie marry his best friend following Danny’s imprisonment. The best friend then stayed out of prison just long enough to knock up Maggie. When Danny gets out, Maggie’s husband still has his life term ahead of him. Stop me if you don’t see where this is headed.

Jay-sus, there are so many beautiful moments in this film: Danny’s breaking down the British army’s cinder-block wall over his front door to reclaim his crap apartment, saying simply, “This is my home”; Danny’s forfeit of his certain victory over an African boxer when it becomes clear the crowd’s bloodlust has overcome the referee’s good sense; Maggie’s confrontation of her IRA leader father about her long suffering to emulate her mother’s devotion … ach, just a solid, solid film, before we even get to its innate, hopeful, hopeless, resigned, I’ll-kick-yer-ass Irishness: Irish like Sarina, crowd-surfing on a sea of leprechauns with a crown of clover on her head and a rainbow shooting out of her ass leading to a pot o’ gold.

How well the pairing held up: [/Isaac Hayes voice] “Motherfuckin’ well, motherfucker.” If you accomplish nothing else in this life, you must settle on an Irish whiskey that you like, then drink that Irish whiskey while watching The Boxer, or In the Name of the Father, or The Snapper … fuck it, drink it while watching The Secret of Roan Inish. I think everyone knows that Fiona grows up to be a whiskey-soaked trollop down at the Dublin docks.

Tastes like: Leprechaun pee, I have to imagine. But enough about Sarina. Bam!

Bushmills: This is easily the most popular Irish whiskey, available at airport bars and grocery stores everywhere. That doesn’t make it bad, it just confirms its very “on-the-top” nature. It’s not a complex flavor, the least so of the three. It’s supposedly the oldest Irish whiskey, licensed in 1608 and allegedly consumed by British soldiers some 400 years earlier to get them primed for cutting up Gallic peasants.

Jameson: My favorite before and after the test. This Dublin jewel comes from a distillery founded in 1780. Oddly, that’s how many shots of Jameson I’ve had in my lifetime: 1,780.

Tullamore Dew: I didn’t know what it was before, and I’m still not sure — is this some kind of blend? More complex than the Bushmills, yet I surely wouldn’t select it over either of the others. I’m not casting it out of my house, I’m just waiting for someone who really likes it to visit so I can get them drunk and abandon them down by the rowhouses.

Overall rating: Which part? The film was four out of five stars, without question. The whiskey? You can’t put a rating on desperate perfection, you limey fucks.

Ted Boynton is a dedicated sot who would leave his barstool only to stalk Whit Stillman, if anyone could find Whit Stillman. Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at [email protected]

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