Movie Magazine International

The General

Ireland - 1998

Movie Review By Larry Carlin

There have been a few fine flicks coming out of Ireland lately. You recoiled in horror at The Butcher Boy, you had some great laughs in Waking Ned Devine, and you might have shed a tear or two after Dancing at Lughnasa. There have been countless films about the IRA and The Troubles, but now there is a new film by John Boorman about an unusual subject -- an Irish gangster -- called The General.

Based on the real-life exploits of a modern day criminal mastermind, The General stars little-known actor Brendan Gleeson as the late Martin Cahill, a man who spent his life living outside the law while in full view of same. Reared in poverty as a child, Cahill was an enigma to most people in Ireland as well as being downright infuriating to the police, who are led by a vexed Inspector named Ned Kennedy, played by Jon Voight. Even though the police watched him around the clock he was still able to evade and embarrass them by pulling off some of the most spectacular heists in modern times. A pudgy, balding fellow whose face was rarely photographed, Cahill lived a most unusual life for an Irishman -- he cohabited and sired children with both his wife and sister-in-law, he did not drink or smoke, and he also did not use drugs. With his army of hapless henchman the General defied the powers that be of the police and the church as well as the IRA and the Loyalists to the Crown. And all the while riding around Dublin on his trademark Harley-Davidson motorcycle! Eventually the police stepped back and let the IRA "take care" of Cahill in 1994 -- which does not give away any surprise ending, since this happens in the opening moments of the film.

The General is a fascinating film written, directed, and produced by filmmaker John Boorman, who won the Best Director Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival. His credits include the films Deliverance, Excalibur, The Emerald Forest, and Hope and Glory. Boorman knew of Cahill more than most people -- his own home was robbed by the guy and you see Cahill smashing Boorman's gold record that he received for the "Dueling Banjos" song. Brendan Gleeson, whose face may be familiar from the films Braveheart, The Butcher Boy and Michael Collins, has been described as "the Irish Depardieu," and he is marvelous as the cunning and conniving Cahill. Eamonn Owens, who starred as The Butcher Boy, plays the delinquent Cahill. And Jon Voight -- together again with director Boorman for the first time since Deliverance -- delivers as the irritated Inspector.

Filmed in color but printed in black and white, this is neither a happy film nor a glorification of a Gaelic gangster. More a character study of a true Irish character than an homage to a renegade, The General is worth saluting as one of the better films to come from the Emerald Isle, and for Movie Magazine, I'm Larry Carlin.

© 1999 - Larry Carlin - Air Date: 2/3/99

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