Posted by: mensab | January 20, 2008

The Good War Formula and Hollywood on Michael Collins

michael collins           As a student of international peace studies, I believe that films have the power to shape my ideas on peace and conflict. The influence of films is undeniably rooted in the pervasiveness of popular culture in our society. A walk on the streets of San Jose would present the high popularity and profitable business of selling “pirated” digital films. This scene and long lines and stalls of film vendors are no different from the streets of Manila where I come from.


            I have a deep interest in films that appeal to nationalist or patriotic sentiments. Michael Collins released in 1996 does fall into this category. It is a story of an Irish hero who inspired and led a revolutionary struggle for independence against the British empire. He was assassinated by a young patriot. He died without seeing the Irish Republic, a dream he would have loved to see. The hero, Michael Collins, is the same as the “warrior champions” who exemplify the virtues of “tenacity, tough-mindedness, honor, selflessness, nobility, and of course patriotism” (Boggs and Polard, 2007, p. 59).


            My fascination of patriotic films hinges on my belief that it is noble to fight for independence under a colonizing power. I believe in the self-determination rule as a better set-up for separatist ethnic groups. The film has traces of the good war formula by Boggs and Pollard (2007, p. 69-70). Indeed in the film, “the entire campaign is depicted as unquestionable noble, with the horrors of combat framed in morally imperative, urgent, heroic terms” (p. 69). The executions of the atrocious British spies are depicted as necessary to advance the cause of independence. Also, the film is about the fight between good (Irish as the freedom fighter) and evil (British as the occupier). The scene on the football field where the British soldiers suddenly emerged and randomly shot the Irish spectators creates an evil image on the British soldiers. Another feature that makes the film fits into the good war formula is that the story is “around typically (white) male heroism” (p. 69). The actor that played Michael Collins is Liam Neeson who has a reputation of playing hero in the movies Rob Roy, Schindler’s List, and Star Wars.


            As a biographical and epic film, Michael Collins, how historically authentic is the film? I think this is the biggest challenge for any biographical films that are based in real people, places, time and events. According to Scott (2002),


The director Neil Jordan strove to recreate the story as it actually happened with few “dramatic licenses” used. All the major characters were real people who were generally portrayed as they actually were. Liam Nelson even looks similar to the real Michael Collins as is seen in the few photographs of him. The general storyline was very accurate with that of what biographers present. In particular, the fighting and bloodshed that occurred throughout the movie was very accurate in its detail and was not romanticized beyond what actually did happen.


I am glad to know that the film is truthfully done. The “dramatic licenses” invoked by the director who is an Irish could be seen as fashionable formula for Hollywood and commercial movies. The inclusion of bankable movie stars such as Liam Neeson, Julia Roberts, Aidan Quinn, Allan Rickman, and Stephen Rea is to attract moviegoers to watch the film. The romantic flavor between the hero and a lady gives the story a human touch. It adds to the drawing power of the film. However, the main objective of the film, to my mind, is the introduction and presentation of the life of a real Irish hero who is not widely and popularly known in the world and the historical narrative of Irish independence from Britain. I think the film has succeeded in this respect while not compromising with the authenticity of the events, places, and people depicted in the film itself. This is aside from the good war formula that most Hollywood war movies follow.



Boggs, C. and Pollard, T. (2007). The Hollywood War Machine. Colorado: Paradigm


 Scott, T. (2002). From Heroism to Obscurity: A Critique of Michael Collins. Retrieved

January 19, 2008, from



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: