The General

Martin Cahill may be a modern-day folk anti-hero in Ireland, but he's not much of a player in contemporary American lore. Credit director John Boorman, then, with bringing a life like Cahill's to the screen with such acuity that it's easy to overlook the many familiar elements of his mobster movie. Filmed in black-and-white in the spacious Cinemascope format, The General opens with the death of its subject. Cahill, a sort of blue-collar Robin Hood who was responsible for a number of impressive heists (jewelry, art, etc.) in Ireland, made plenty of enemies in his lifetime, so when he was knocked off in 1994 by a miffed wing of the IRA, no one was really surprised. What Boorman does with The General is expose the complexity of Cahill's contrary life. A colorful crook if ever there was one, Cahill lived a comfortable life with his wife and his concubine-like sister-in-law. Though the charismatic, clever thief was not beyond bursts of extreme brutality, the inspired Brendan Gleeson plays him with such a ferocious focus that even after he nails one of his underlings to a pool table, he still exudes a deceptive affability. Boorman's decision not to use color can be seen as an effort to deglamorize a glamorous figure, or reflect the depressed state of Ireland's underclass, but ultimately the trick proves an overt bridge to such classic Hollywood gangster movies as Howard Hawks' Scarface. It's interesting to compare and contrast the rise and fall of Paul Muni in that film with the tragic, selfish end of Gleeson in The General, if only because Gleeson's portrayal of Cahill is never less than sympathetic. An impressively torn Jon Voight is also on hand as Gleeson's frustrated police nemesis, a childhood friend who must resort to Cahill's below-the-belt level to bring him down.

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