Director – Neil Jordan
1995 – Usa – 125 min.
Ian Hart, Julia Roberts, Richard Ingram, Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Liam D’staic, Michael Dwyer, Brendan Gleeson, Stuart Graham, John Kenny
Like the Irish freedom fighter and statesman at the heart of his sweeping new film, the writer and director Neil Jordan faces an uphill battle. Michael Collins, legendary in Ireland and less so in England, is largely a little-known figure to the audiences who made Mr. Jordan’s two most recent films, ”The Crying Game” and ”Interview With the Vampire,” such runaway hits. More problematic is the elusive nature of a leader who experienced a sea change during his brief career, evolving from a pioneer of modern-day terrorism into a proponent of compromise and peace.
Serious salesmanship is in order for ”Michael Collins,” on and off the screen. The film itself works eagerly to emphasize the frankly entertaining aspects of its story. Picturesque romance, virtuoso cinematography and sloganeering dialogue (”I hate them for making hate necessary!”) all threaten to turn ”Michael Collins” into Mr. Jordan’s least daringly idiosyncratic effort. But his passionate enthusiasm for his subject survives this film’s sugarcoating.
Played with great magnetism and triumphant bluster by Liam Neeson, the film’s Michael Collins easily lives up to his nickname. ”The big fella,” as he is sometimes called here, thunders through Ireland on a mission that Mr. Jordan describes unflinchingly: to fight by any means necessary against English occupation. ”We won’t play by the rules, Harry,” Collins tells Harry Boland (Aidan Quinn), his close friend and associate among the Irish Volunteers, the secret force organized after the Easter Uprising of 1916. ”We’ll make our own.”
Beautifully shot by Chris Menges with strong visual drama and a sense of moody grandeur, ”Michael Collins” makes Dublin the stately backdrop for its mounting acts of sabotage. Without pulling punches about his sympathies, which are entirely with Collins and the Volunteers, Mr. Jordan imbues the film with wrenching intimations of tragedy in the making. ”You will have to do the shooting,” Collins tells his men, as history moves them toward bloodshed. ”Don’t expect it to be pleasant.” In a film that unabashedly invokes religious imagery in a political context, one fighter is seen praying in church just before a deadly attack.
While the film vividly depicts cloak-and-dagger details of the Volunteers’ fight against English spies and officials in Ireland, it also tries to leaven these bloody episodes with the hokum of a love triangle. Michael and Harry are both smitten with the fetching Kitty Kiernan, played by Julia Roberts, who in her first scene here sweetly sings an Irish standard. (”She’s a voice like an angel!” Collins exclaims.) Ms. Roberts beams charmingly through this role without adding anything substantial to the film’s vision of its hero.
”Promise me something, Kitty,” Collins tells her in venerable leading-man fashion. ”Promise you’ll never care about me.” At another point in this early screenplay of Mr. Jordan’s, which has far less edge than his recent writing, Collins and Boland discuss the short but glorious life of a butterfly.
Like T. E. Lawrence at the same stage in British history, Collins is remembered for having invented formidable new ways to bend the will of the Empire and then weathering a change of heart later on. ”Lawrence of Arabia” is one model for the biographical film equally comfortable in the public and private arenas of its hero’s life, but ”Michael Collins” winds up with a private soap opera and a sometimes detached view of the political events to which he contributed. In this realm, Alan Rickman plays the prim Eamon de Valera as a chilling counterpoint to Mr. Neeson’s robust, roaringly good performance as Collins. In a small but vital role, Stephen Rea stands out as a pivotal character stirred by patriotism and by Collins’s fiery and charismatic advocacy of his cause.
You find here below the trailer from YouTube.