Though focusing specifically on the fiery Collins, the film delivers an impressionistic overview of a period of violence among countrymen that is infused with the same awful waste as our own Civil War.
"Michael Collins" is a good movie that, for some elusive reason, lacks heart. The continuing tragedy of the Irish "troubles" is a subject of bewildering complexity for most Americans. We can be grateful that writer/director Neil Jordan laces his film with periodic explanations of dates and places. It helps, but, strangely, the religious core of the conflict is left unexplored.
In 1900, Britain controlled two-thirds of the world. Although it controls very little today, its century-old war with Ireland continues. In the early 1900s, Michael Collins (Liam Neeson) fought for Irish independence from an inner rage expressed in a fierce temper. As a marked man, he strode openly through the streets, leading his men, bombing, burning, and provoking the British. With a brash and powerful performance, Liam Neeson makes the Collins legend understandable.
In pivotal counterpoint, Eamon de Valera (Alan Rickman), future president of Ireland, wanted to rally world opinion to their side, while Collins wanted to bring the British to their knees with violence. Alan Rickman's de Valera is a terrific portrait of an intellectual living in self-righteous outrage.
If this movie's version of history can be believed, de Valera sent Collins to London as a reluctant peace emissary knowing he would fail. Even though Collins returned to Ireland with British acceptance of an Irish Free State within the Empire, his failure to secure full independence became justification for personal betrayal by de Valera.
Though focusing specifically on the fiery Collins, the film delivers an impressionistic overview of a period of violence among countrymen that is infused with the same awful waste as our own Civil War. There is a particular poignancy to a war fought in familiar streets, where getaways are made by bicycle while horses and buggies and newfangled cars jostle for space. This is the kind of war where you do indeed know your enemy, who may once have been your friend.
It is utterly disheartening to watch the Irish wipe out the elite of the British Secret Service; equally so to see a British tank retaliate by rolling into a soccer stadium to randomly gun down players and spectators.
An excellent cast conveys all this sadness. Stephen Rea is predictably strong as double agent Ned Broy. Julia Roberts does well by her role as Kitty Kiernan, a secondary character apparently intended to give respite from the landscape of guerrilla war. She is loved in this film, if not in history, by Collins and his best friend, Harry Boland (Aidan Quinn). Mr. Quinn is outstanding as he paints layers on a portrait of loyalty to cause and friendship.
500,000 people jammed the streets to attend the funeral of the man who fought the British Empire to a stalemate. Michael Collins's devotion to his cause is matched today by people on both sides of this war punctuating repeating cycles of revenge, torture, and betrayal. If the movie seems to lack heart, perhaps it is because hope has been extinguished by passion.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Studio : Warner Bros.
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h57m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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