Dennis suggests Michael Collins (in Feature Drama). So I was reading this great book the other
day… (in secret, because Videoport’s owner Bill hates books. And all New England-based sports teams. And nice weather. Basically anything that people might choose to do for recreation other than rent movies, really). It’s called A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle and I recommend it very highly. It’s about this guy named Henry (duh) born into the shocking poverty of the Dublin slums (I know, sounds like a laugh riot, but bear with me), who grows up on the streets and eventually becomes tangentially involved with the Irish war of independence and the formation of the IRA, all the while bedding some hot, Irish lassies. Good book. Anyhoo, Henry meets up with Michael Collins and other real life Irish historical figures throughout the book and, when I finished the book, I, being an openly-flamboyant movie freak as well as a closet book freak, thought, ‘Hey, why not watch Michael Collins, since you now know about ten times more about Irish revolutionary history than you did a few days ago and since you’re bummed out that such a good book is over?’ So I watched Michael Collins (I had made a pretty good argument to myself, really) and…it’s not bad. Directed by Neil Jordan (who’s directed some very good movies indeed [The Crying Game, Mona Lisa, The Good Thief]…along with some not-so-good ones [In Dreams anyone?], the film follows Liam Neeson-as-Michael-Collins through all the major engagements the birth of the Irish independence movement as he and his lads battle the British, first in wildly unsuccessful conventional battles and then in the way more successful guerilla warfare that led to the eventual weakening of British rule. Perhaps the most compelling thing about the film (apart from the always-engaging Neeson, the charismatic, tweedy giant) is the position the film puts us in as we, inevitably, root for the Irish good guys as they employ violent methods that, in any other context, would be classified as terrorism. Car bombings, threatening death to any Irish person who works for the British government (like, say, cops), organizing themselves into secretive ‘flying columns’ (Jack Bauer call ‘em ‘terrorist cells’ on ‘24’), and so on. Maybe it’s because they’re, oh I don’t know….WHITE that people find this sort of terrorism so easy to side with. Me, I kept listening to the accents on both sides and thinking, ‘Gee, why can’t these nice, charming fellas all just get along?’, due to me being so parochial and ignorant. Anyway, the film puts the viewer in an odd position, which I like. Neeson goes a long way in humanizing Collins as well, with his bruiser’s frame and his sad eyes and with Jordan giving him occasional little speeches about how he hates what he’s doing and instructing other people to do. That all being said, the film does suffer from some bio-pic-itis, and Jordan seems burdened by the responsibility of telling a story so important to his people (a trap Spike Lee fell into with Malcom X to a certain extent), flattening things out a bit. Oh, and someone please tell me why Collins’ love
interest is not played by any of the legions of fully competent Irish actresses available, but instead by Julia-freaking-Roberts? I know, money, but, good god, maybe they could have picked someone who could do an Irish accent at least. Roberts had even had an entire other movie (the awful Mary Reilly) right before this to practice her accent and she still can’t do it. It’s distracting. (Aiden Quinn is another inexplicable American presence, although his accent is miles better. He’s still boring, though). All in all, the movie is solid, Neeson is very good, and my thirst for Irish history was sated.
(By the way, Roddy Doyle’s books have been made into a number of very good movies available at Videoport, such as The Commitments, The Snapper, and The Van. See, Bill, books can be a force for good… in the sense that they can lead us to rent movies based on them, of course).