A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
History will record the greatness of Michael Collins,” the Irish president and patriot Eamon De Valera said as an old man in 1966, “and it will be recorded at my expense.” Yes, and perhaps justly so, but even Dev could hardly have imagined this film biography of Collins, which portrays De Valera as a weak, mannered, sniveling prima donna whose grandstanding led to decades of unnecessary bloodshed in, and over, Ireland.
“Michael Collins” paints a heroic picture of the Irish Republican Army's inspired strategist and military leader, who fought the British Empire to a standstill and invented the techniques of urban guerrilla warfare that shaped revolutionary struggles all over the world. Played by Liam Neeson in a performance charged with zest and conviction, Collins comes across as a clear-sighted innovator who took the IRA as far as it could reasonably hope to go, and then signed a treaty with the British that was, he argued “the best we can hope for at this moment in time.” The treaty established an Irish Free State, but it preserved the division of Ireland into north and south, and it fell short of the independent republic the IRA had been fighting for. Collins felt that additional negotiations over a period of years could eventually produce those gains; he and his comrades were weary of bloodshed.
But De Valera (played with shifty conceit by Alan Rickman) refused to support the treaty, and his decision led to an Irish civil war and, indirectly, to the assassination of Collins. And today IRA bomb blasts still rock London, and the peace that Collins hoped for has come only from time to time.
Was De Valera (who led Ireland in various offices for most of the years between 1932 and 1973) really responsible for all these tragic consequences? Some argue so, but others will find that “Michael Collins,” in need of an Irish villain to balance the British enemy and explain the death of Collins, makes Dev into a weaker and more devious man than he was. The film even implies, without quite saying so, that Dev was aware of, or at least not adverse to, the plot against Collins.