Guerrillas in their midst

Neil Jordan's passion fuels Michael Collins

As the colleen Kitty, Julia Roberts brings a lovely humanity to the proselytizing and action scenes; and Stephen Rea, seeming mousier than usual, brings an expected degree of compassion as an Irish royalist. The only weak link in the acting chain is, predictably, Aidan Quinn. Quinn sulks around in a part handcrafted for his somber, jiggling-Adam's-apple-style self-pitying second leads. He has always been a dangerous actor to cast according to type (he's better in movies like Stakeout, where he played a villain), simply because he brings a sameness to these parts. His characters rarely get the girl because you never really feel they deserve it. It's unlikely he'll ever develop into a viable leading man; he lacks charisma.

Jordan's shameless preaching of his gospel of Irish nationalism ultimately encumbers the film rather than liberating it. Michael Collins has many positive traits: Jordan imbues it with a sincerity and energy that can only come from a man passionate about what he believes in, but the unregulated flow of that passion likewise proves to be its greatest liability. It's rousing and entertaining by virtue of its scope and intensity, but a haughty sense of piety really carries the day. In its quest for honor and moral gravity, Michael Collins falls as the man himself did: a noble casualty of patriotism, a prisoner of its own good intentions.

Michael Collins. Warner Bros./Geffen Pictures. Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Julia Roberts, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea. Written and directed by Neil Jordan. Now playing.

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