Review of The General

The General (1998)
9/10
Another accomplished performance by Brendan Gleeson, Ireland's Depardieu
28 July 2000
John Boorman's 'The General' was always going to be a controversial movie and a tough sell for its filmmakers.

It's anti-hero, Martin Cahill was Ireland's most infamous criminal of recent times - so much so that there has been four screen depictions of him (Ken Stott in The Vicious Circle, Kevin Spacey in Ordinary Decent Criminal, Pete Postlethwaite in When The Sky Falls and Brendan Gleeson in The General).

He was guilty of some of the country's most outrageous crimes and capable of real brutality - most notably, injuring a forensic scientist in a car bomb and literally nailing one of his gang members to the floor.

Add into the mix the fact that the film has a largely Irish cast deploying thick Dublin accents and that Boorman chose to shoot it in black and white and you have a movie which wasn't exactly going to jump out at international and especially, US audiences demanding to be loved.

The result is perhaps Boorman's finest work, certainly on a par with the wonderful 'Hope and Glory'.

The film is also by a furlong the best of the four movies depicting Cahill's life.

This is in large part due to the brilliant performance of Irish actor, Brendan Gleeson in the central role.

The Irish Depardieu not only physically transforms himself into Cahill but captures the rebellious spirit, the intelligence and the charm.

It would have been easy to depict Cahill as a monster.

However, Gleeson and Boorman treat their audience with respect, building up a character with shades of darkness and light.

On one hand, viewers are given an appreciation of how "The General" was able to command the love of two sisters, his children and the adulation of his criminal associates.

However, Boorman's film is certainly no love letter to Cahill. We also see his sadistic side as in the bombing of the forensic scientist's car and crucifixion of one of his gang members, his lack of consideration and compassion for the 100 workers laid off at a storeroom he has robbed, his cold bargaining with the sexually abused daughter of one of his gang members.

The supporting cast also put in fine performances too.

Jon Voight not only masters the rural Irish brogue of the Garda (police) inspector bedevilled by Cahill but also the attitudes. It is a tough but ultimately sympathetic performance of a cop dragged unwillingly into the gutter.

Maria Doyle Kennedy and Angeline Ball give charming performances as the sisters who were also the women in Cahill's rather unorthodox life, with Ciaran Fitzgerald also making a sympathetic son.

Adrian Dunbar, Sean McGinley and Eanna MacLiam all put in spirited performances as members of Cahill's gang. McGinley, in particular, creates another memorably seedy performance as Gary.

Special mention should also go to Pat Laffan as a brutish Garda sergeant.

With it's cracking script, Richie Buckley's musical score and the black and white camerawork, 'The General' is easily up there with the best of modern movies made in Ireland (certainly, up there with Neil Jordan's 'The Butcher Boy' and Alan Parker's 'The Commitments').

It is a must see - a film which demands cult status.
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