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Michael Collins

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Michael Collins

Starring: Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn
Director: Neil Jordan
Rated: R
RunTime: 132 Minutes
Release Date: October 1996
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Stephen Rea, Alan Rickman, Julia Roberts, Ian Hart, Brendan Gleeson, Stuart Graham, Sean McGinley, Gerard McSorley, Jonathan Rhys Myers, Charles Dance

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Dragan Antulov review follows movie reviewvideo review
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Dragan Antulov
1½ stars out of 4

In 1991 Jonathan Demme brought the wrath of American gay community on himself by having a sexually ambiguous character for a villain in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. For that crime he had to make amends with PHILADELPHIA two years later. It could be argued that similar thing happened to Irish director Neil Jordan after CRYING GAME, 1992 movie that had very negative portrayal of IRA. Whatever his motives, Jordan had much more favourable portrayal of IRA in MICHAEL COLLINS, 1996 biopic that dealt with that organisation's legendary leader and Irish freedom fighter.

The plot of the film begins in 1916, while Ireland used to be part of British Empire. Trying to exploit British involvement in WW1, group of Irish nationalists stage famous Easter Uprising. Just like many times in the Irish past, this valiant effort succumbs to the British military might; most of the rebels are captured and many later shot. Michael Collins (played by Liam Neeson), one of the survivors, learned from that defeat and decided to fight British by unconventional means. Three years later, while his comrade and Sinn Fein leader Eamon de Valera (played by Alan Rickman) goes to America to plead for Irish indepenedence, Collins sets up a small but dedicated group of volunteers that would act as an underground arm. Instead of openly confronting British, they would use hit and run tactics against policemen and government officials and later melt in the general population. In doing so Collins gains important ally in the form of Ned Broy (played by Stephen Rea), policeman who starts working as a mole within the heart of British security service. As a result of Broy's information, Collins and his men are able to wipe out all the informers and secret agents and thus put whole British security apparatus in disarray. British retaliate on innocent civilians, thus fuelling Irish resentment and broadening support for IRA. After two years of bloodshed both sides are exhausted, and when the time comes for negotiations, de Valera, who became envious of Collins' popularity, gives him the unpopular task of leading negotiations. The peace treaty gives Ireland freedom, but the island remains divided between North and South; many Irish nationalists resent this so much that Collins now has to fight another, even bloodier war and receive military aid from his former enemies. This time people on the opposing side include even his best friend Harry Boland (played by Aidan Quinn).

MICHAEL COLLINS won prestigious Golden Lion award at Venice Film Festival thanks to prologue that had pandered to that festival jury's ultra-leftist sentiments. In the prologue Neil Jordan claims that Michael Collins invented urban guerrilla warfare and later served the inspiration for the famous and successful revolutionaries like Mao Zedong. This is far from truth, because "urban guerrilla" (or "terrorism") had been applied by many other revolutionary organisations in the past. Furthermore, those who tried to copy Collins' methods and achieve political aims through terror - whether their political orientation was left or right - usually failed. On the other hand, although the film had its deal of historical speculation (especially towards the relationship between Collins and de Valera), it couldn't be accused of inventing history. Most of the incidents portrayed in the film really took place - it is their interpretation that caused controversy, especially in Britain, where some accused Jordan of being terrorism apologist.

MICHAEL COLLINS is more-or-less accurate, but being accurate and giving complete picture of Irish Troubles are two different things. Despite great deal of enthusiasm in his native Ireland for this project, Jordan had to rely on Hollywood for this project and simplify the story. So, MICHAEL COLLINS conforms to the usual stereotypes about evil English oppressing poor Irish and never mentions "Catholics" and "Protestants" - two words that symbolise the main reason why Ireland remained tragically divided to this day. And the negotiations between Collins and British government - the event that sealed both Ireland's and Collins' fate - is simply not covered in this film. Jordan, on the other hand, compensates those holes in the script with spectacular scenes that reconstruct the period. In that Jordan is aided by authentic locations and group of talented actors. Liam Neeson, despite being significantly older than historical Collins, is more than convincing incarnation of Irish leader. Jordan's old associate Stephen Rea is very good as policeman who becomes dedicated follower of a man he supposed to track, while Alan Rickman, best known as a villain of DIE HARD, must turn into Collins' arch-nemesis in the absence of British characters who could serve that purpose.

All this could have produced an interesting and captivating film way above the usual Hollywood standards of screen history. But Jordan, in an attempt to make his story closer to American audience, made another fatal mistake - he chose Julia Roberts, American movie superstar, to play Collins' love interest Kitty Kiernan. To say that Roberts was wrong for the role was understatement, especially when we consider the large number of Irish and British talents who could have handled the job. Presence of Roberts' character (although based in history) is irritating and only takes precious time that could have been used to give more historical exposition.

Perhaps this review might seem unkind to MICHAEL COLLINS, but this criticism is probably mild compared with what awaits this film in the future. In today's world it is difficult to imagine audience sympathetic to the attempts that try to blur the line between terrorists and freedom fighters.

Copyright 2003 Dragan Antulov

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