Monday, October 03, 2005

THE GENERAL (1998) - John Boorman

The General is one of those movies that’s been recommended to me by several different people on several different occasions. One that’s been picked up, carried around, then put back on the shelf at the video store, probably in favor of some far inferior New Release. It’s a movie that was on my Netflix queue for about a year, constantly jostled about by other incoming selections that I desperately needed to see first. Finally, it was recorded off IFC, then left to rot in my video closet.

So after finally watching it yesterday, I have to ask…what the hell was I thinking? This is an incredible movie. One of the best portraits of a working class criminal I’ve ever seen. Brendan Gleeson plays Martin Cahill, a.k.a. “The General,” a notorious Dublin thief known for daring neighborhood robberies and his ability to make fools out of the local police, including John Voight’s Inspector Kenny. He is a working-man’s criminal, just trying to keep food on the table for his extended family, a large Irish brood made larger by the fact that he is shacked up with TWO sisters who willingly share him and his larger than life appetites.
And his appetite for crime is most insatiable. While standing trial for one snatch-and-grab arcade robbery, he’s planning an even bigger run on a jewelry store so that if he’s convicted for the first he’ll have the money from the second to last his family during a two-year prison stretch. Thanks to Cahill’s creative interpretations of Irish larceny laws, the charges are dropped and he keeps the jewelry from the second heist, soon raising the stakes by pulling an even more daring major art theft.

Boorman has a lot of giddy fun here in the direction. He seems to share The General and his crew’s childlike enthusiasm for victimless crime. He moves the story along quickly and efficiently from robbery to robbery, sprinkling in dozens of crafty crime details, then alternating back to Cahill’s home life to enrich the character even more. The tone of the movie reminded me a lot of the mischievous kid’s hi-jinks in Hope and Glory, except the kid grew up and become a mischievous world-class criminal. As for The General himself, not enough can be said about Brendan Gleeson’s performance, other than it’s a crime that he did not win an Oscar.

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