Michael Collins tells the powerful, turbulent story of one of Ireland's most controversial patriots and revolutionary heroes, known as 'The Lion Of Ireland', who leads his countrymen in their fight for independence. Set in the early 20th century, when a monumental history of oppression and bloodshed had divided Ireland and its people, the film covers the bloody 1916 Easter Uprising, when Irish revolutionaries surrendered to the overwhelming military power of the British forces and Collins was arrested. Upon his release, he takes leadership of the Irish independence movement and strives to create a free and peaceful country.
Despite both my Irish-American heritage and history background, I didn't know a lot about Michael Collins before diving into director Neil Jordan's movie of the same name. And while the film reportedly does play a little fast and loose with some of the historical facts and characters (as most biopics do) in order to tell its story, all in all it's a pretty good movie about an important figure that I'm guessing a lot of Americans don't know all that much about.
Unlike a lot of films based on people from history, 'Michael Collins' doesn't spend any time on his background or upbringing. It begins with Collins's participation in what became known as the Easter Rising of 1916, during which a group of Irishmen took up arms against the British rule of their country. The uprising was suppressed by British troops and Collins was arrested and imprisoned for a time, but it marked his first moments on the national stage.
Because Jordan throws us right into the important events with little in terms of lead-in material, I spent a good 45 minutes or so (and many viewers may as well) playing "catch up" with the movie, trying to figure out who all the players were and exactly how they related to Collins. That's one of the mistakes the director makes with his film, but by the time the second half of the movie kicks into gear, viewers should be riveted to the screen as the revolutionary actions that Collins has put into place start to spiral out of his control.
The big question Neil Jordan seems to want to address in his movie (which he also wrote) is what effect the violence of Collins and those who follow him had on the political process. Did it help speed matters up, did it slow things down or did it – tragically – make no impact whatsoever? It's interesting to watch Collins make the change from soldier to statesman late in the film. He makes it because for him, it's always been about doing what's best for Ireland. However, those around him aren't so quick to turn away from the violence, and Collins's relationship with others suffers because of it.
Neil Jordan has done a pretty good job here populating his film with some notable and talented actors. In addition to Neeson as the lead character, the late Alan Rickman plays the subdued (not only soft-spoken, but slow-spoken) Irish leader Eamon De Valera, while the highly underrated (I've always wondered why he never became a bigger star) Aidan Quinn plays Harry Boland, a man who is almost like a brother to Collins. About the only casting that doesn't work is the choice to cast Julia Roberts as Collins' love interest, Kitty Kiernan. Even putting aside Roberts' failure to master an Irish accent (hey, she's not the first actor to have accent difficulties in a motion picture), her romance with Collins seems like a distraction to everything else that is going on in the movie, and the fact that Neeson and Roberts have very little chemistry together doesn't help matters.
But despite its flaws, 'Michael Collins' has more good in it than bad, and throughout it all, the movie is just beautifully directed by Neil Jordan with some stunning imagery. While fans who have seen the film shouldn't hesitate to pick this one up, I do recommend that newcomers at least try to rent it first (or perhaps find it on TV or via streaming) before making a purchasing decision. It's a well-made movie, but I don't know that it's something many will want to watch multiple times. But that's really my only major caveat about this release.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Michael Collins' battles its way onto Blu-ray in a standard Elite keepcase, which house the 50GB disc without any inserts. There's also no front-loaded trailers on this "Archive Collection" release from Warner Bros. The main menu is just a still shot of the box cover artwork, with menu selections along the bottom of the screen in the standard Warners' design.
The Blu-ray is region-free.
'Michael Collins' was shot on 35mm film and is presented on Blu-ray in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, which is slightly opened up from its original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. For the most part, this is a very nice transfer of an older movie (yes, believe it or not, 'Michael Collins' is 20 years old) by the folks at Warners. As is the case with a lot of Neil Jordan movies, the director likes to use a lot of natural lighting, shoot scenes in smoke-filled rooms, or use darkened alleyways or moments filmed at night – so those scenes do come off with a "flat" look on Blu-ray. But Jordan also takes advantage of the lush Irish countryside in 'Michael Collins' (the movie was shot on location in and around Dublin), and – as you might imagine – those moments look glorious in HD.
The look of the movie also dials back colors ever so slightly, so there's a somewhat "historical" feel to the presentation. The palette used here is largely a lot of earth tones – browns, grays, blacks, and – naturally – greens. About the only glitch I found in the presentation is that the film suffers from a slight, almost imperceptible jitter, which is only really noticeable when text is present on the screen. I didn't see any issues with some of the typical problems that often show up on a Blu-ray, such as aliasing or banding. Overall, this is a transfer that viewers should be quite pleased with.
An English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is the primary audio here, and while it doesn't suffer from any glitches, it's not the most active or engaging track I've heard. As is the case with most audio tracks, the majority of the dialogue comes from the front center speaker, while the surrounds are used for ambient noises, which in the case of 'Michael Collins' is primarily a lot of crowd cheering and gunfire. The track does spark to life a bit during the more violent moments of the movie (the opening battle sequence is one example), but in big chunks of other scenes, the surrounds are virtually silent.
Still, there's not a hint of muddiness to the track, and most of the sounds are distinct and show decent separation. While the audio feels far from immersive, it's serviceable enough and is probably a good home theater representation of how the movie originally sounded in theaters.
Additional audio options are available in 2.0 Dolby Digital in German, Spanish (Latin), and Spanish (Castilian). Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, German, Spanish (Latin), Spanish (Castilian), Chinese, Korean, Czech, Polish, Thai, and Turkish.
Although it takes a while to engage viewers in its sprawling storyline, 'Michael Collins' is a decent biopic with a strong performance from star Liam Neeson. It gets a decent transfer here from Warner Bros. with a few brand-new bonus materials (and a couple of old ones) that should please longtime fans of the movie. For the rest of us, this title is certainly worth a look.