From ........... NEWSWEEK

October 14, 1996

page 74

THE ARTS - MOVIES -

SLOUCHING TOWARD MAYHEM

'MICHAEL COLLINS' SANCTIFIES AN IRISH HERO

BY DAVID ANSEN

NEIL JORDAN'S MOST HAUNTING movies "Mona Lisa," "The Miracle," "The Crying Game" arise out of a private dreamscape where obsessive men pursue their romantic follies to forbidden dead ends. These movies may start in the real world, but they spin inward toward fantasy. That is why Jordan's epic Michael Collins seems such a radical departure. He's stepped onto the public stage of history, confronting the nightmarish subject of 20th-century Irish politics.

Michael Collins is not a familiar name to most Americans. To the Irish, he is either a great romantic legend the freedom fighter who brought the British Empire to its knees in 1921 or the man who sold out the revolution by signing a treaty with the English which brought about the partition of Ireland. In Jordan's view, Collins strikingly embodied by Liam Neeson was a grand, contradictory and tragic figure, a master of guerrilla warfare and martyr to the cause of peace whose death, at 31, at the hands of an Irish assassin, robbed Ireland of its greatest hope for the future.

Clearly, this is a subject Jordan cares about passionately, but he hasn't found a form to make us share his passion. Unless you come to Michael Collins with strong feelings about its hero, it's unlikely you will be deeply engaged. Jordan's ambitious, handsomely shot film has a number of virtues, not the least of which is its attempt to take the long, tragic view instead of merely cooking up easy, partisan emotionalism. But as a movie, it's curiously remote.

This is not for want of action. There's ample demonstration of its hero's talent for "bloody mayhem." Collins was the military genius behind the republican effort that fought centuries of British domination, and in organizing a secret army to combat the better-armed enemy, he invented guerrilla tactics that would be copied later by Mao and Yitzhak Shamir.

With the help of a well-placed turncoat [ Stephcn Rea ], he was able to locate and assassinate his pivotal British enemies inside Ireland.

Jordan's flashiest set piece is his staging of Bloody Sunday, when Collins's men fan out across Dublin, eliminating their targets in surprise attack.

Rousing the troops: Irish patriot Neeson challenges centuries of British domination - [picture caption]

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