At last, Liam Neeson returns to the cinema of his beloved homeland of Ireland, and with a bang, because as if Neeson's roles as a Roman Catholic priest in "Lamb" and a bare-knuckle boxer in "Crossing the Line" weren't Irish enough for you, in this film, he's an iconic Republican revolutionary, and it doesn't get too much more Irish than that. So yeah, this is pretty much "Schindler's List II: The Irish Strike Back", and I use that generic subtitle because this particular liberator's strategies for freedom weren't exactly as quiet as those of Oskar Schindler. Terrorism sure is a heck of a way to get people's attention, but the fact of the matter is that now that Liam Neeson is done saving the Jews, he's off to save the Catholics, and I'm sure he's hating Ben Kingsley right now for already doing "Gandhi", as he is some brown makeup, an awesome mustache and a bald cap away from saving some Hindus. Jokes aside, I can actually kind of see Neeson as Gandhi, so I reckon he was, in fact, born to be so awesome that he can save the world from oppression, at least on film, which naturally leaves me to get excited about his whipping out the extra brown makeup and extra thin awesome mustache for "I Have a Dream: The Movie". Yeah, I'd imagine that film would end with not just Neeson's iconic leader character getting shot, because, you know, "the black people are the only people to ever have anything bad happen to them ever and have every right to gripe, complain and blow up stuff". Shoot, maybe they would let Neeson have the role of Martin Luther King, because if the black people are concerned about someone who is not of a culture similar to theirs in the role, the Irish also have a tendency to do some serious damage when they don't get their way, except the difference is that the Irish commit violent acts against their oppressors while they're still being oppressed. Oh well, Michael Collins was still a compelling figure, and his story certainly makes for a compelling film, yet like Collins himself, this effort has some questionable aspects to its noble efforts.
While I wasn't exactly entering this film with a fear of being bored, I was expecting there to be more limpness than there is and am glad to find that momentum is sustained much more often than not, yet this is still a fairly meditative drama, and it's hard to keep things consistently exciting when working with a film like that, thus, it's only a matter of time before momentum trips and the film is left tumbling into a slow spell, of which there are few, but enough for you to sense a certain aimlessness to this material at times, at least when you're not sensing a certain degree of hurrying to storytelling. At just over 130 minutes, this film's runtime may seem tight to some and too brief to others, considering the magnitude of this mini-epic's subject matter, and to me, the final product ends up being a combination of both, being generally pretty tight and direct as a meaty and layered drama, only to have times in which it speeds things up, which would be just fine and all if the the hurrying didn't cause plenty of beats to run into each other and take on a sense of repetition that would have decidedly been settled if this film would have spent more time meditating upon fleshing out certain areas of storytelling, rather than skipping to the heights of intrigue with only so much intrigue reinforcement. The pacing issues are rarely, if ever deeply offputting, but what moments of unevenness in momentum there are are hard to ignore, whether when they're slowing things down into a bit of blandness, or getting to be a bit too eager to hurry up to the next major plot beat. Of course, no matter what clip it moves at, the film ends up telling this worthy story in a fashion that's too formulaic for its own good, because even though this film has its refreshing moments, or at least hits familiar areas hard enough to earn your investment through all of the conventionalism, the limited uniqueness to storytelling dilutes the significance of this subject matter, now matter how much director Neil Jordan desperately struggles to milk this drama for all its worth. Jordan's ambition is perfectly understandable, as the story portrayed in this film is a worthy one that I'd imagine really resonates with him, considering the pride he has in his Irish background, but it does get kind of carried away, being too emphasized by anything from the aforementioned eager spots in pacing to the occasional lapse in subtlety, spawned through a bit too much heart, for you to ignore the spots in which Jordan fails to fulfill his ambition. Sure, these spots are limited in quantity, but they end up going a relatively long way in the end, diluting the full flavor of this noble effort through exposition, originality and subtlety issues enough for the final product to fall short of the strength that it wants to and perhaps should achieve. Regardless, the film powers on, being flawed, but ultimately quite rewarding as both a compelling drama and a well-produced ode to troubled times.
Before it can cut to the core of the telling of this important story, this film must first sell you on this memorable era, so, as an ambitious project, it spares no expense delivering on outstanding production value, with art directors Arden Gantly, Jonathan McKinstry, Malcolm Middleton and Cliff Robinson rebuilding the United Kingdom, crica mid-1910-to-early-1920s, with a lavish intricacy that immerses you into this world, particularly when warfare is dramatized with an intensely effective attention to detail. The designs in this film are very memorably impressive as not just immersive, but eye-catching, though that may be because these designs have the honor of being presented through the great Chris Menges' cinematography, which delivers on a richly gritty color palette whose tastefully sparse plays with lighting are consistently handsome, with haunting moments reflect a dynamicity to this film's visual style that is nothing short of artistically upstanding, kind of like the great Elliot Goldenthal's score, which has its formulaic moments, but is generally filled with sweeping versatility and moving soul. If nothing else is truly outstanding, it is this film's artistic value, powered by stunning photography and gorgeous music which also power some of the atmospheric punch-up that compliments the resonance of this drama, whose effectiveness cannot be complimented without first being established on paper. As ambitious as this project is, its valuable story's impact goes betrayed by some repetition, expository shortcomings and conventionalism to storytelling, yet even without the effective areas to the execution of this story, there's no obscuring the importance and intrigue to this subject matter, which is rich with dramatic potential that is brought to life more than betrayed on paper, alone, as Neil Jordan, as screenwriter, delivers on anything from sharp, often witty dialogue, to generally thorough exposition that fleshes out the meat of this drama, while Jordan's direction fleshes out the heart. If Jordan was more controlled with his ambition as director, then he likely would have put more attention into settling shortcomings and crafting the strong, maybe even excellent film he wants this project to be, yet such ambition is also worthy of compliment, breathing life into genuine inspiration that keeps entertaining liveliness from ever slipping too far, until broken by, well, slow spots, but mostly by tension during the action set pieces and touching, maybe even piercing effectiveness to the drama. Jordan's efforts get to be problematic, and perhaps should hit harder when they do, in fact, hit, but grace this very human epic with heart and soul, kept pumping by such aspects as the aforementioned artistic tastefulness, and, of course, by the acting, which is all but across-the-board impressive, but truly peaks with a commanding lead performance by Liam Neeson, whose portrayal of the lighter spots within the titular icon's humanity is highly charming, and whose portrayal of the more layered depths of Michael Collins is engrossing, backed by a subtle emotional weight and committed transformativeness that gives you thorough insight into a flawed, but honorable hero. When Jordan's power slips, Neeson more-or-less carries the film single-handedly, yet consistently anchors this drama as one of the greatest strengths behind this project filled with strengths, and while I walked away wishing for more, I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't rewarded by this flawed, but ultimately noble and compelling effort.
Bottom line, there is the occasional aimless spell, as well as more than a few hurried spells that have plot beats run together with a repetition that, alongside conventional storytelling, waters down the full effectiveness of this drama, whose overambitious execution reflects the shortcomings too much for the final product to achieve the high strength that it clearly and understandably wants to achieve, yet also backs a certain inspiration within Neil Jordan's heartfelt and compelling effort that, when joined by immersive production value, lovely cinematography, excellent score work, sharp writing and strong acting, - particularly by leading man Liam Neeson - does enough justice to a worthy tale to make "Michael Collins" a rewarding mini-epic study on the efforts of one of Ireland's most influential figures.
3/5 - Good