Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"The General" (1998) - Movie Review

“The General” is a slow but a nice construction of a criminal consumed by a pride of being poor and tough been driven to paranoid and ultimately only gets a moment of the life he once had before he gets shot. The person is Martin Cahill (Brendan Gleeson) the infamous Irish thief who pulled off daring heists with simple technique with a crew loyal to him of course until the end one by one get in the mix either by the Garda the Dublin police or by carelessness to leave Cahill stranded on his own with his family.

With respect and authority as called “The General” Martin is a man grows up in slums and takes immense pride in being so. He is so attached to the place he ran after stealing groceries that he stays put in a tent until he literally gets begged by the authority to leave for an upscale apartment. He hates authority and repeatedly says “Us against them”. The “them” is never clear apart from the rich and government. But he owns a luxurious house cleverly put on his sister in law Tina’s (Angleine Ball) name who would become his second wife which will be gladly suggested and welcomed by his wife Frances (Maria Doyle Kennedy).

In this mix is his counter part who is police Inspector Ned Kenny (Jon Voight). I am not sure what attracts a sympathy in the police man way from Kenny towards Cahill because he advises him constantly on giving up on this trade. Martin is a stubborn man and if I can say an irritating personality, at least for the police and watching him I would have been too. He insults them with disregard and mere smugness. Every time he pulls a heist he faithfully makes his alibi by visiting Inspector Ned Kenny.

“The General” is not your regular heist film. For that fact it is not a heist film. It is a study of this character who formulates a crew who are blindly loyal that they let him divide the money and hide it and circulate it when he wants to. He of course tests the loyalty cruelly and unmercifully when he suspects one of the crew stealing by nailing his hand to a snooker table.

I was not impressed by the film to tell you the truth even though it redeems to a little bit as the end nears. What Martin stood for or what he put the pride on for is a question mark. Since it is based on the real guy, you cannot argue much with a man’s character of who he was. But the film made on him cannot use that as an excuse because there is something which amazed the director by the character of this personality to drive a film. What was it never gets answered. Or this puzzle of his movement in not giving up to the authority does not become a good game. The Garda stoops to the level of cheap tactics and ultimately wants a dirt fight to make Martin give up. Not that I am defending the guy but stooping to his level does not make it right which he himself says to Kenny.

Martin is the smart person and he is not alone aware of it but develops this arrogance in intentionally playing dumb and insult his opponents. He always hides his face as though to tease the curiosity of the press and the public. He pulls off crazy stunts and delays any legal process getting down on the ground and taking it down by simple bare hands. He is a pain and he makes them feel it not in the way of extremity but sort of an irritability. Gleeson brings that in appearance and the funny way he brings out the words. He gets ruthless when he needs to and when he breaks down almost to the police, we only get a bit of hint of his humanity.

He loves his family and lives harmoniously with two wives. He poses as the Robin Hood but succumbs to the head strong he holds. The police deals the smirk on his face with the medicine of his own which is to annoy. They annoy and harass him and his family to an extent that leaving the house for a peaceful dinner alone with his family becomes a luxury. Except for the house he does not seem to hold much money from the robberies.

“The General” is a strange film. I was neither amused nor annoyed by it completely. I believe it is due to the subject they take on and the person they focus. He has principles which are only aware to him and he changes them as he wishes. We are in the dark of his intentions and he is not insane enough to disregard his actions as a pain of childhood. Director John Boorman got robbed by the real Martin and that stirred him to take up this story when Irish journalist Paul Williams wrote the book of the same name. He sure is a complex person but a film on him may be was not a good idea in my opinion.

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