Michael Collins B, B

Warner/1996/133/ANA 1.85

     Michael Collins is  a sweeping historical  epic that attempts to capture the action and political drama of the Irish Republican Armyís fight for an Ireland independent of England. Combining the intimate and broad aspects of the conflict, Neil Jordanís film fails to do full justice to either, watering down the impact of politics and battle with the less successful personal details of the life and romance of Michael Collins.  Yet, Michael Collins is still a big, beautiful film, dealing with a fascinating period of urban warfare.  
Set during the few short years between 1916 and 1922, Michael Collins depicts the march from abject defeat at the hands of the English to the establishment of an Irish Free State after the reign of terrorist tactics established by Collins. The film is at its best in capturing the relentless spirit of Collins as he designs the urban gorilla  tactics that finally force the hand of the English.  
     Liam Neeson is a fine Michael Collins. Neeson exudes  the charisma that men follow loyally and coupled with his imposing physical presence, he gives the title character an extraordinary screen force. On the other hand, Alan Rickman as De Valera, the nominal IRA  leader, lacks the screen presence of Neeson.  One questions the loyalty shown him by Collins and confederate Boland. Rickman needed to find a way to match the force of Neeson on screen in order to make their conflict for the IRA leadership more interesting.  The relationship fails to ignite the screen sparks that may have existed in real life. The likable Aidan Quinn gives Harry Boland the benefit of his good nature, yet, the script fails to develop the intended resonance in the relationship between Collins and Boland. You simply have to accept their closeness. And Bolandís split with Collins needs more justification  than the love loss of Kitty Kiernan to his friend. The romance of Kitty Kiernan and Michael Collins is the most problematic personal relationship of the film. It would seem that screenwriter/director Jordan has included this aspect of Collinsí life for reasons other than devotion to historical accuracy, feeling that the story needed a womanís presence. Itís a false step that only drains the film of its otherwise desperate pace. Much maligned for her Irish accent in Mary Reilly, Julia Roberts is an adequate Kiernan, but this is a story about Collins, the man of action. 
     The delicate lighting and sweeping grandeur of Chris Mengesí photography is problematic for adequate transfer to video, and while the DVD of Michael Collins is sharp, it lacks the visual dynamics of the theatrical presentation. The images are very sharp, but why has Warner chosen not to present Michael Collins with an anamorphic transfer?  It could even have been better looking on display devices capable of unsqueezing the anamorphic picture into scrumptious detailed images. Colors are accurate and the many dark scenes of intrigue are transferred with fine shadow detail. The sound is beautifully realized. Elliot Goldenthalís dramatic score is given its proper due. The battle scenes add plenty of surround power. This early DVD release is also a flipper and will probably be released dual layer at another time.  
      As a bonus, Warner has included a British television documentary on Michael Collins. The fifty minute production includes newsreels of the real Michael Collins and interview footage with Neil Jordan discussing the film and controversy surrounding the historical accuracy of some details. Jordan acquits himself admirably in defending some liberties taken for dramatic license. The documentary is a nice augment to the film, though it lacks depth. 






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