Liam Neeson did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying the titular character in Michael Collins.
Liam Neeson probably has had one of the stranger career paths for an actor as in the early nineties he was probably best known for starring in prestige pictures like Schindler's List then he transferred to the go to man to play the doomed mentor like in Gangs of New York for example although still with the occasional portrayal of a lead in a prestige picture still like Kinsey, but now he is a go to bad ass for any action movie. Although a strange course perhaps it should not be looked at too surprising because take a look at his performance as Michael Collins an Irish freedom fighter of the early Twentieth Century. After all Michael Collins is an Irishmen with a very particular set of skills, and if you're English you better let Ireland go or else he will look for you, he will find you and he will kill you.
Seriously though Collins for most of the film is a rabble rousing heroic figure who will do everything he can to fight for the cause, and bring others to fight for it as well. Neeson definitely brings what the part need which is a lot of passion and energy to every scene. He's very believable as the freedom fighter because he just throws himself into every moment of it as fiercely as he can. Most of what he does is just basically calling upon his men or doing things himself to further cause with just a moment or two that are a bit quieter to make a potential wisecrack or two. Neeson is able to dial up and dial it down with great efficiency and he does a very good job of being a true hero type which is very much fitting to the way the film chooses to present Michael Collins.
There were potentially some room for more to the character but the film tends to avoid it. It delves a little bit into a romantic relationship with a woman named Kitty but since she is played by Julia Roberts those scenes are just kind of distracting. Neeson is sweet and charming enough in them, but honestly it really does not matter whether he chemistry with Roberts or not as the film does not really care too much about that relationship when you get right down to it. Another area that would have been interesting to explore is when Collins is sent to be a negotiator to England to work through a treaty to free Ireland. This could have shown Collins in a different light as he speaks and negotiates with the English, but the film chooses to not show these scenes leaving Neeson still very much restricted in his portrayal of Collins.
The film does not stop there though as the finale of the film depicts a rift between Collins and some of the Irish over the treaty that leads to a civil war. Collins does not really have a change of heart towards violence or anything else rather it shows that Collins believes that they have gotten what they need so the violence simply should stop nothing more. The film's decision to present this view makes it so once again Collins just needs to stay in that hero mode, just instead of arguing against the English he instead must passionately argue against his brethren. Neeson keeps it consistent though and he stays effective in bringing the needed zeal through the proceedings. Neeson in fact makes it very easy to sympathize with Collins in these late scenes because he only continues to present Collins as man fighting for the same cause the whole time.
Although Michael Collins is not presented in a particularly complex way I really can't blame Liam Neeson for any of this. Whenever there is a chance to explore Collins in a fuller fashion the film seems to actively avoid it to keep him very bluntly as a hero. The film easily could have created a journey where Collins perhaps changes his views or something, or even just changes his views slightly, but the film chooses instead to present Collins as being right from the beginning to end. All of this has to do with Neil Jordan's writing and directing though and none of it really comes down to Neeson's performance since where Collins would have to be a little different the film refuses to show it. In the limited scope given to him though Neeson does give a strong performance by bringing such a righteous intensity, and unquestionably making Collins the hero the film desires.