Starring: Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Julia Roberts, Alan Rickman, Stephen Rea, Jer O'Leary
Rated R for Violence and Language
I will never make a more important film. -writer/director Neil JordanI believe it. This is a story that acclaimed Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan wanted to tell. And while passion is essential for a film to work (witness the power of "Schindler's List," for example), it has to be effectively channeled. Sadly, that doesn't happen here.
The relationship between Ireland and England is long, complex and bitter. 700 years of oppression from the British government had built up a lot of resentment in the Irish people, but repeated attempts at independence had been met with failure. It took Michael Collins (Neeson), a man who used guile, guts and violent guerilla tactics, to earn its independence. However, he was no diplomat, and when tasked with negotiating a truce, he only managed to foster a deal that left many feeling dissatisfied. What was supposed to end war ended up with his assassination and leaving Ireland in a conflict that is till not completely resolved.
It may be that Jordan had bitten off more than he could chew. "Michael Collins" is a busy motion picture, with many characters and plotlines. Far too much, as it turns out, for a picture that's a hair over two hours. Character development is sketchy at best and the editing is so haphazard that the story is at times completely incoherent. For example, at one point, Irish president Eamon de Valera (Rickman) is imprisoned, and he uses a candle to create a mold of the jail key. The film cuts away to another aspect of the plot, but when the film is picked up again, Collins and de Valera are already trying to get out of the prison. Not showing how it all went down, despite the audience being able to sort of figure it out (in broad strokes if not the details) is just bad storytelling.
The acting, even by established actors, is not the film's strong suit. Liam Neeson does what he can, but the screenplay lets him down. Aidan Quinn and Stephen Rea blend into the background as Michael's friend Harry Boland and British double agent Ned Broy. Alan Rickman, always an impeccable actor, is sorely miscast. He's never credible. Julia Roberts is good, and at times excellent, but wasted in a thankless role. Ian Hart, Brendan Gleeson, Charles Dance, Gerard McSorley and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers appear in small roles.
The film's biggest problem is that there's rarely a scene in this film that is properly set up. Any good storyteller knows that every scene is built upon the one that comes before it. It would be bad enough to show only the important parts of the lead character's life, but Jordan only shows the important parts of the film. There's little flow in this film and as a result the plot's trajectory is, at best, clunky and without rhythm.
I am usually bored with remakes, since like last year's forgettable "Poltergeist" remake, they're mechanical and thus a waste of time. But Collins is such an important figure that there should be a film that does him justice. Pity that this isn't it.