Quick, name some good films about the American revolution? Hmm,
couldn't name any? For those of you who incorrectly listed REVOLUTION
(1985), remember I said "good" films. Granted the Internet Movie Data
Base does also list a few obscure, older ones, but basically there
Thanks to director Neil Jordan (MONA LISA, THE CRYING GAME, and
INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE), there is a good one about the "Irish"
revolution. Taken from the perspective of a key Irish terrorist and
later peace broker, the film is known simply as MICHAEL COLLINS.
MICHAEL COLLINS is an excellent, but frustrating film. The acting
is brilliant as is the direction. The film's downfall lies in the
script, also by Neil Jordan. Tactically the script works, but not
After a three paragraph written introduction to past Irish
history, the viewer is thrust into the thick of the 1916 Easter Rising
where the battle is fully engaged. Certainly Irish historians will
have no problems, but I posit that average movie goers will feel like
they turned on the TV and found themselves starting off in the middle
of a great mini-series with only a few sound bites from the narrator to
give them the necessary context and motivation. There is fat in the
show that could have been trimmed in favor of more historical
perspective in the beginning.
Similarly, most of MICHAEL COLLINS leads up to the signing of the
treaty with England, but it does not end cleanly there. Jordan decides
he must show all of the events after that up until Collins death. The
problem is that the show is already about two hours long at that point
so he rushes through a sketchy outline version of the end that leaves
you exhausted and confused. Quick incident after incident are thrown
at the audience in a montage that feels like we are see nothing more
than the trailers for MICHAEL COLLINS PART II.
I have to get one final problem out of the way so I can
concentrate on the positive aspects of what is at its core an excellent
movie. Hollywood decided that they had to have a sex interest in the
film so they signed Julia Roberts to play the role of Michael Collins's
girlfriend Kitty Kiernan.
Without exception, the film would be stronger if every scene
Roberts was in, would have been left on the cutting room floor. The
show's great momentum grinds to a halt every time she appears. Her
part is the fat I alluded to earlier. Maybe they could have left her
name on the marquee and just put her picture on Collins's desk, but not
forced her to deliver a bunch of meaningless lines, including my
favorite bit of drivel, "so which one of you gunslingers is going to
ask me to dance." Roberts should have politely collected her check and
Now onto the brilliance of the rest of the picture.
"What happens next time?" asks Harry Boland (Aidan Quinn) as they
surrender at the end of the Easter Rising. "Next time, Harry, we won't
play by their rules. We'll play by our own," reassures Michael Collins
(Liam Neeson) with plans to switch to terrorism and away from open
When Eamon De Valera (Alan Rickman) is captured we see him writing
a letter from prison with the sun streaming in to bless writings.
Chris Menges's emotive cinematography makes him look like St. Francis
composing his pieties. Later when Collins addresses a crowd, the
images are so strong that you want to leap out of your seat and join
the cause. The cinematography is Academy Award nomination material as
is the acting by Neeson and by Stephen Rea as Ned Broy, who was
Collins's personal spy in the British intelligence service in Dublin.
Neeson's portrayal of Collins as a terrorist's terrorist is
unflinching. He is willing to kill anyone at any time to support the
revolution. His only concern is not to waste precious bullets.
Nevertheless, Neeson is so attractive and compelling, that regardless
of whose side you were on when entering the theater, you are likely to
side with Collins during the show. Neeson gives such an involving
performance that will find yourself pleased every time another British
soldier or intelligence officer is murdered.
Collins wants to wage his war with fear so he starts a mass
campaign of slaughter against the British rulers, specially the British
"G-men" in Dublin. There are British who are sympathetic to the Irish
cause. While in Lincoln prison back in England, De Valera is told by
the chaplain (Aidan Grennell) that, "I can't understand your politics,
but I appreciate your integrity."
The show argues effectively that De Valera had little integrity
and that he was the Machiavellian figure of the Irish revolution.
Specifically, it claims, among other things, that he sent Collins
rather than himself to negotiate with Britain because he knew that the
best result that could be hoped for would be derided by the Irish
people. If someone else could be blamed, then his hands would be
clean. Rickman gives a wonderfully slimy performance.
Collins is drawn as a complex man who proclaims, "I want peace and
quiet. I want it so much I'd die for it." He loathes the British,
telling Harry, "I hate them for making hate necessary, and I'll do what
I can to end it."
To make sure you take the Irish side, the film includes frequent
scenes of torture and murder by the British forces in Dublin. Typical
of the G-men lines while torturing is the one where they say, "The
problem with the Irish is that they'll sing at the drop of a hat, but
ask them to talk and they won't."
I accepted the film lock, stock, and barrel as accurate until a
scene where the British troops drive an armored car into a rugby match
for no reason and begin mowing down innocent people in the stands with
machine guns. After that dubious bit of historical accuracy, I begin
to question all of my previous assumptions about the film. Maybe the
incident did happen in exactly that way, but I find it a bit hard to
MICHAEL COLLINS runs 2:13, which is too short for its attempted
scope, but the film would have been better if it were more tightly
focused in which case it should have been shorter. The movie has an R
rating. There is bloody but not sensationalized violence, lots of uses
of the F word, but no sex or nudity. The show should be fine for
teenagers. Although the picture could and should have been much
better, I liked MICHAEL COLLINS and recommend it to you. Although it
is uneven, I average out its rating to ***.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes