The General

1998, Movie, R, 129 mins


This is a playful, somewhat fictionalized account of the life and times of Irish gang-boss Martin Cahill, and a fine return to form for writer-director John Boorman. Cahill, nicknamed "The General" by the press and his fellow Dubliners, became one of Ireland's most notorious criminals of the 1980s, thanks to a string of audacious robberies that netted him a reported $60 million, and ultimately bought him a bullet from an IRA gunman. Boorman begins with Cahill's violent end and then, through a brilliant use of reverse motion photography, flashes back to scenes of Martin as a boy (Eamonn Owens), coming of age and learning his criminal trade amid the squalor of post-WWII Dublin. In and out of correctional schools and, eventually, jail, Martin grows to become the leader of a notorious gang of thieves and something of a local Robin Hood. Defined by his "us against them" view of the world and contempt for any form of authority -- above all the police -- Martin (Brendan Gleeson) pulls off a series of daring, high-profile capers with his gang while constantly foiling his lifelong nemesis, Police Inspector Ned Kenny (Jon Voight, complete with perfectly respectable Irish brogue). Cahill is a fascinating mixture of brutality, criminal genius and eccentric charm -- it's not every man who'd first nail a friend's hands to a pool table, then drive him to the hospital -- but Boorman's determination to present his character as a boyishly innocent, latter-day Robin Hood flattens what could have been an intriguingly ambivalent portrait. That said, Boorman's original script is razor sharp and very funny, and Gleeson's portrayal is nothing short of brilliant: He's been accurately described as Ireland's answer to Gerard Depardieu. The film has little of the visual dazzle often associated with Boorman's movies (EXORCIST II, EXCALIBUR), but the somber, black-and-white cinematography helps even out the often larger-than-life tone. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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