Hidden Netflix Gems: Michael Collins

“It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday. 

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: “Michael Collins” (1996)

“Michael Collins” is a 1996 historical biopic starring Liam Neeson as the titular Irish revolutionary. Written and directed by Academy Award winner Neil Jordan, the film won the Golden Lion, the highest prize at the Venice Film Festival, and became the highest-grossing picture of all-time in Ireland upon its release. The high profile cast includes Alan Rickman (Éamon de Valera), Stephen Rea (Ned Broy), Brendan Gleeson (Liam Tobin), and Julia Roberts (Kitty Kiernan).

For those who don’t know, Michael Collins was an Irish revolutionary, military, and political leader who made the liberation of his homeland from its British colonial overlords his life’s work. In the now 90 years since his death (and well before it), his actions made him a folk hero, “The Big Fellah,” the single most important figure in the fight for Irish freedom. As such, “Michael Collins” begins with the following opening crawl:

At the turn of the century Britain was the foremost world power and the British Empire stretched over two-thirds of the globe.

Despite the extent of its power, its most troublesome colony had always been the one closest to it, Ireland.

For seven hundred years Britain’s rule over Ireland had been resisted by attempts at rebellion and revolution, all of which ended in failure.

Then, in 1916, a rebellion began, to be followed by a guerilla war which would change the nature of that rule forever.

The mastermind behind that war was Michael Collins.

His life and death defined the period in its triumph, terror and tragedy.

This is his story.

Although the film depicts historical events, it is first and foremost a character piece. As such, I don’t consider it a spoiler to discuss the real-life developments of nearly a hundred years ago (aka the film’s “plot”). Even still, I won’t get into too much of the nitty gritty.

“Michael Collins” depicts its main character as the heroic leader of the songs. All at once he’s a brilliant military strategist and leader of men, but unafraid of getting his hands dirty. He’s the brilliant public speaker, the ideological inventor of guerrilla warfare, and ultimately the pragmatic diplomat who signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty when he believed any further violence would be for naught but its own sake.

The IRA had been backed into a corner when the British unexpectedly called for a cease fire and offers were made to begin peace negotiations. Collins signed the aforementioned treaty, calling it “the best we can hope for at this moment in time.” The truce established an Irish Free State only nominally attached to the British government, but fell short of the independent republic the IRA had dreamed of and preserved the separation of Northern Ireland. Collins felt that the best method moving forward was further negotiations from the “inside,” with the hope that they could someday achieve those goals without further bloodshed.

Rickman’s de Valera is pitted against Collins to various degrees throughout the film, but never more so than in the treaty’s wake. His refusal to accept its terms led (indirectly) to the Irish Civil War, Collins’ assassination, and even the violence that continues to shake Northern Ireland to this day.

In 1966, de Valera, then the Irish president, was quoted as saying, “It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time history will record the greatness of Michael Collins, and it will be recorded at my expense.” I don’t think even he could have predicted just how right he would be, and “Michael Collins” is a shining example. The film seems to both run with the idea by, as Roger Ebert put it, portraying Dev as “a weak, mannered, sniveling prima donna whose grandstanding led to decades of unnecessary bloodshed” and concede it as an inherent flaw by including the quote in the picture’s end. In the film, Dev is the Judas to Collins’ Christ, characterizing the former’s refusal to support the treaty as indirectly leading to the assassination of the latter, and perhaps even hinting that Dev knew the attempt on Collins’ life was coming.

But as Neil Jordan has pointed out, it wold be impossible to, in a mere two hours, portray an entirely accurate account of events to an audience that (for the most part) would know nothing of the minutiae of Irish history. That said, “Michael Collins” gets a lot more right than it gets wrong. At the end of the day, the fact remains that it is a movie first and a biography second. For the movie to be both commercially and artistically successful, it required a villain outside of the faceless evil of the British Empire. Thus the role of tangible, human antagonist fell into de Valera’s lap. And let’s face it, if there wasn’t a hint of truth in the idea, Dev would never have made that quote.

Sometimes the (near) truth is stranger or more exciting than fiction, and there are few better examples than the life of Michael Collins. Whether or not you’re a history buff, “Michael Collins” is satisfying film that combines biography, war, and political intrigue without getting too intense with any of them (although the romantic subplot can seem out of place). And hey, for once you can tell people you learned something from a film rife with explosions.

Check out the trailer below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman

  

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Hidden Netflix Gems: ‘Bronson’

It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a new weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday. 

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: “Bronson” (2008)

“My name’s Charles Bronson, and all my life I’ve wanted to be famous.” That’s the opening line of Nicholas Winding Refn’s fictionalized biopic “Bronson,” starring Tom Hardy as the titular character, a man who the press often refers to as the “most violent prisoner in Britain.” You may be familiar with Winding Refn’s best known work, 2011′s “Drive,” starring Ryan Gosling, and recognize Hardy as the guy who played identity thief Eames in “Inception” and most recently appeared as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.” While those two pictures might be better films, I don’t think Hardy as ever put in a better performance than he did in “Bronson.”

Charles Bronson is not as well known stateside as he is across the pond. In the UK, the man is something of a national celebrity, both famous and infamous for spending the majority of his adult life in solitary confinement (28 of his 34 years in prison). Bronson was first incarcerated in 1974, at age 22, after being handed a seven-year sentence for armed robbery (of just  £26.18) from a suburban English post office. That seven years quickly became 14 as a result of his starting various fights and hostage situations involving guards and fellow prisoners. Bronson was released in 1988, but spent just 69 days on the outside (during which he began a “career” as a bare-knuckle boxer) before being arrested again. He’s been in prison ever since and his antics haven’t ceased.

Part of Hardy’s preparation for the role came from phone conversations with the man himself. In interviews discussing these interactions, you can see what makes the performance so special. In this clip, Hardy re-enacts a conversation he had with Bronson regarding a recent break-up. It’s one man sitting on a couch, but Hardy’s impression is so good it’s almost as if the camera is cutting back and forth between the actor and his subject (see the full interview here).

The film, which has been certified fresh and sits at 77 percent on the Tomatometer, is a clear homage to “A Clockwork Orange” (for reasons beyond the plethora of ultraviolence). “Bronson” begins with and includes many scenes of Hardy speaking into the camera and addressing the audience directly. The move allows the film to break the fourth wall, but also includes its own in-universe explanation: Bronson is performing a one-man play, narrating his life to a theater audience (sometimes while dressed in clown make-up). Alternatively (and more likely), he’s just imagining that’s the case, because in his mind, Charles Bronson is the most famous, best-loved man in the universe. The film is a biopic, but it’s highly fictionalized. It’s less about telling Bronson’s life story as it happened and more a character study. When the film’s events break from reality, it can be explained away by the fact that we’re getting Bronson’s version of the story. There’s no mendacious play at objectivity. Rather, we’re allowed to understand and perceive Bronson’s reality, for however brief a time, and thus try to figure out if Charles Bronson is really a crazy person or just far more sane than the rest of us. Either way, the answer might surprise you, and then being surprised might surprise you.

As mentioned, the thing that really separates this film from the pack is Hardy’s performance. He perfectly captures the comedic delirium that is being Charles Bronson. Frankly, I’m glad I saw “The Dark Knight Rises” first, because Tom Hardy and Charles Bronson were one and the same in my mind for a few days after watching this movie. I’m not sure how seriously I could have taken Bane after seeing Bronson/Hardy strip down and command a kidnapped guard to rub him down with grease, all the while yelling “Put on my armor! Everywhere, get it everywhere! Put some on my ass. Not in my ass ya faggot!” as the guard whimpers. To me and you it sounds like insanity, and it is, but for the 92 minutes “Bronson” is running, it’s his world, and we’re all just living in it.

 Check out the trailer below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

  

Related Posts