More in the tradition of his films of the late 60's and early 70's (Point Blank and Deliverance) than his more recent Excalibur, Emerald Forest and Hope and Glory, The General tells the true story of Martin Cahill, a child of the Dublin slums who becomes a premier criminal and an enigmatic local hero.
The film is audacious in several ways -- not the least of which is that it is filmed (by director of photography Seamus Deasy) in gloriously crystal clear black and white. Yet the story is anything but -- and those looking for a political rational as a catalyst for Cahill's life of crime will be sorely disappointed. In Cahill's world, the IRA -- like the police force headed by Jon Voight -- is just another irritating authority. In the slums in which he is born and raised, poverty is the rule and crime the only occupation with potential for career advancement.
The General opens with Cahill (played stunningly by Brendan Gleeson) being assassinated by the IRA as he gets in his car early one morning in 1994 -- an act that the police clearly could have stopped if they so desired. Even though the end of the story is obvious from the beginning, we are drawn into the evolution from childhood of Cahill into "the General" -- the brains and leader of the most successful criminal ring Dublin has produced.
Writer and director Boorman does not romanticize or even sympathize - he simply unflinchingly reveals. There is little to like about the self absorbed Cahill as he has an affair with his wife's sister and is capable of extreme brutality to friend and foe alike - yet Gleeson as Cahill compels and intrigues through his intelligence, his ingenuity and his charisma.
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