GENERAL, THE(director/writer: John Boorman; cinematographer: Seamus Deasy; editor: Ron Davis; cast: Brendan Gleeson (Martin Cahill), Adrian Dunbar (Noel Curley), Maria Doyle Kennedy (Frances Cahill), Sean McGinley (Gary), Angeline Ball (Tina), Jon Voight (Ned Kenny), Eanna MacLiam (Jimmy), Eamonn Owens (Cahill as a kid); Runtime: 124; Merlin; 1998-Ireland)
“It was great casting to make Gleeson the lead.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This B/W film is based on the real-life criminal known affectionately by his cohorts as “The General,” Martin Cahill (Brendan Gleeson). It begins by him getting executed in front of his swanky house by a lone IRA gunman. The film immediately flashes back to his squalid birthplace, showing him as a kid played by The Butcher Boy’sEamonn Owens. At an early age, he was sent to reform school and was almost molested and then beaten by a priest. It seems as if it was in his blood to be bad. He grows up to despise anyone who isn’t from his old neighborhood or part of his gang. Priests are assigned the role of being pederasts, which leaves Cahill with a bitter opinion of religion and any authority figure for the rest of his life. The IRA and the Protestant Loyalists are lumped together with all the politicians, whom he views as being assholes. The police are simply pigs. Voight plays the neighborhood cop, Ned, who tried to befriend the youngster but was spurned by him. He is pictured as a typical dumb cop. Early on in Ned’s career, he is doing his sworn duty to kick the poor out of their homes. His career is shown moving parallel to Cahill’s, as we see how he rises up the police department’s bureaucratic ladder to become an inspector. He is thought of by Cahill to be just as dirty as he is, a sort of alter ego.
Cahill finds romance with Frances (Kennedy) and Tina (Ball), who happen to be sisters. He lives happily with both raising kids and supporting them with the loot he steals on his capers. He is a devilish little fatty certainly not looking the part of a big time hood, as he loves to wear self-deprecating T- shirts with pigs and slogans on them. He also makes a habit of trying to hide his face wherever he goes in public or when the police interrogate him. I guess these character quirks are supposed to make him somewhat appealing, or show that he has some kind of psychological failings.
When we talk about Cahill we are not talking about a Robin Hood, even if that’s what he fancies himself. Though, he steals from the rich only, he still does it to line his own pockets. Once in a while, he helps out those from his old neighborhood. He does that mostly to gain favor with his people, so that they don’t rat him out. He is also shown as a brute, threatening court witnesses, and finding loopholes in the law to get him off anyway he can, no matter whom he hurts. The film, to its credit, did not make him out to be a good guy. But the story is skewed in his favor, making everyone else who opposes him look like suckers.
I think if you look objectively at this rogue, he is rotten to the core; or, as Voight more appropriately says, he’s a “scumbag.” He shows no remorse when he learns that 100 honest working ‘stiffs’ are fired when the jewelry store he robs goes out of business, because of the robbery. He shows no feelings for others when robbing houses and living off what he steals. I wonder how many critics who raved about this film because of Cahill’s winsome mannerisms, would still like this character if he robbed them! In real-life, he was despised by even the people he was brought up with.
The thought of him robbing houses in a miner’s helmet, being a smooth cat burglar, is merely clever film-making that captures what is sort of odd to watch as this fat guy bounces agilely around in the dark.
It was great casting to make Gleeson the lead. But I still find nothing in his story appealing. The film could have been more interesting if it was about Voight. Sometimes just being ordinary hides so much more about a person and Voight seemed to have heavy things on his mind, things that might have been more probing than the General’s vacuous story.
REVIEWED ON 3/16/99 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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