Neil Jordan's historical biopic of Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, the man who led a guerrilla war against the UK, helped negotiate the creation of the Irish Free State, and led the Nat... Read allNeil Jordan's historical biopic of Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, the man who led a guerrilla war against the UK, helped negotiate the creation of the Irish Free State, and led the National Army during the Irish Civil War.Neil Jordan's historical biopic of Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, the man who led a guerrilla war against the UK, helped negotiate the creation of the Irish Free State, and led the National Army during the Irish Civil War.
History on film is a difficult beast at the best of times and no one - and I mean no one - could produce an uncontentious film about Michael Collins: The Irish rebel rouser and politician who helped (the key word) form the first Irish Free State.
Sadly writer/director Neil Jordan takes the view that the history book can be tossed away if it goes against his own agenda or hampers audience sympathy. He created a stick for reviewers to hit him with - and boy did the blows rain down on his head. These blows, alone, might have killed any chance this "difficult" film had at the box office.
(It went down like a lead balloon in America which shows that behind the bluster and flag waving most Irish-American's aren't really interested in their own history.)
If only they had stuck more closely to the uncontested facts film writers would have focused on the good things. Which include excellent cinematography (good use of filters) and first class performances from all bar the all-at-sea (and mostly unneeded) Julia Roberts.
A perfect example of the Hollywood of today: All perfect teeth and good looks, but no ability to do characters or accents. I actually cringed while she was speaking in her "Irish" accent!
(The producers don't help much either by dressing her in a range of expensive outfits that change between shots: Destroying any sense of her being a poor country girl! Indeed scenes of poverty seems to be avoided rather than played upon.)
Liam Neeson was born to play Collins both physically and temperamentally, a dream part for him. There isn't a second that I don't believe in him. Shame there isn't more parts like this for him to play.
I don't mind my country being the bad guy in this movie, because we deserve it. What we did in Ireland will always be a stain on our history, but where is the context? The two countries have always been closely intertwined - not only due to geography but also due to wealth and technology reasons.
Also to be understood is that British troops had no experience of civil war or terrorism. They had been fighting wars against a uniformed enemy that stood in front of them. The people that joined up were often criminals or people that couldn't find alternative employment; or even wanted a bit of adventure in their lives.
Here their enemy dressed in civilian clothes and shot at them in the street (often from point blank range) and then ran. The people they killed were often Irish police or suspected informers. It was very ugly, but it was ugly on both sides.
There was also plenty of infighting (of the literal variety) that was more about gangsterism than Irish politics: A side road this film doesn't want to wander down.
The film also takes the view that "violence was the only path." South African apartheid crashed without the blacks winning any kind of civil war - indeed theirs probably extended the run of the white elite. Times move on, to quote Ghandi, "all tyrannies must fall.... however strong they appear at the time."
Despite everything this is an important film and Neil Jordan's best so far. It has too many little truths about power and real politics to be ignored easily and it does expose one "Irish hero" as a weasel. Watch the film to see which one.
A lot of responsibility fell on Neil Jordan's shoulders making this. It is a one-off deal. It isn't like a book, there won't be another Michael Collins film next year. More people - world-wide- will gain information about him from this film than any other medium. Therefore the hodgepodge mix of fact and fiction makes me uneasy - especially when so many of the debates and politics that are raised here are still ongoing.
- Oct 24, 2004