“History will record the greatness of Michael Collins and it will be recorded at my expense.”- Eamon De Valera (1966)
I wanted to discuss war films this month, but it got me thinking about films that depict war in a less traditional definition (ie. State VS. State). What about civil war, coups in order to depose unjust rule, fucking revolutions and (because I lack the vocabulary) GET THE FUCK OFF MY LAND STAY THE FUCK OUT OF MY BUSINESS kinda conflicts. These types of films generally get the distinction of being Political-Thrillers. I would argue that most of them are war films. “Michael Collins” (1996) is a perfect representation of this. The IRA’s battle with the British is a war. The conflict had an ebb and flow that resulted in periods of simmering hostilities all the way to outright combat and everything in between for decades. Though The Irish Republican Army has splintered, divided, collapsed and essentially dissolved time after time since it’s inception in 1917, there is still an IRA fighting to this day.
Officially beginning in 1917, Michael Collins (Liam Neeson) helped lead The Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) fight against the most dominant Super-Power of the day The British Empire. That is true. As with most Biopics, there is plenty of debate when it comes to many of the facts surrounding the rest of the story. Eamon De Valera (Alan Rickman), who became The President of Ireland, takes quite a beating here, something of a turncoat and weakling looking for appeasement. In any conflict, there needs to be heroes and perhaps, even more importantly, martyrs. Even De Valera understood that more than most and was willing to play the flip-side of the coin to Collins for the good of the people.
Opening with the failed Easter Rising in 1916 Michael Collins (Liam Neeson), Harry Boland (Aidan Quinn), Éamon de Valera (Alan Rickman) amongst other survivors are led away to prison. Upon their release, Collins and Boland begin to organize and recruit The IRA and a military hiding in plain site. Dressed in plain clothes, attacking the enemy using urban guerilla tactics. Collins anonymity itself is used as a weapon. The always great Stephen Rea appears as Ned Broy, a member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) who served as a double-agent for The IRA. All the while de Valera is the public face of The IRA, perusing legitimate political routes. The hostilities, led by Collins, reach a boiling point with Bloody Sunday on Nov 21, 1920. (Read about it, the actions of The British are fucking deplorable). de Valera pushes for a traditional, military attack on The Customs House, ending in the Irish being soundly defeated. The British soon capitulate to some of the demands of The IRA. the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 is signed but it literally and figuratively divides the country. Collins and de Valera each representing a side in a sad civil war. Watch for the rest of the story. There is a totally unnecessary love triangle between Collins, Boland and Kitty Kiernan (Julia Roberts). They both love her, she loves both of them (Barf). It’s a waste of valuable space in a film that is entertaining and dramatic enough.
Writer and director, Neil Jordan created a straight-up, must-see classic with “Michael Collins” (1996). Spectacular direction and great performances from Neeson, Quinn, Rickman but also from stalwart character actors such as Stephen Rea, Ian Hart and Brendan Gleeson. Despite any personal allegiances I may have to this war, I tend to leave judgement of the politics of war films aside. I focus on the characters and their relationship to the politics. That’s generally pretty easy considering most good war films already do that for me. Not many people have any sympathy for Nazi politics but we can all agree that “Das Boot” (1981) is a masterpiece that forces the audience to root for the survival of the characters on the U-Boat. They just happen to be Nazis. What’s fact and fiction in “Michael Collins” (1996) ? It really doesn’t matter, he is more of an ideal than a person at this point. A martyr for the cause of Irish freedom whose story had become myth and legend long before Neil Jordan put his genius hands on it.
Neil Jordan (Writer/Director): Jeez, where to start? Bob Hoskins and Michael Caine in the thriller about London sex workers, “Mona Lisa” (1986). The Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst and Christian Slater vehicle “Interview With The Vampire” (1994). The truly one-of-a-kind, horrific, masterpiece, “The Butcher Boy” (1997). The crime-thriller staring Nick Nolte and, the Serbian film legend (and I mean LEGEND) Emir Kusturica, “The Good Thief (2002). oh and that movie where that chick ends up having a dick.
Liam Neeson: Too many to mention but I few I really love, “(Darkman” (1990), “Seraphim Falls” (2007) (Seriously great revenge flick), “The Grey”2011). “Five Minutes Of Heaven” (2005). It just goes on and on.
Michael Collins (1996) – Official Trailer