July 25, 1999 -- "The General" is another bleak film about life in Ireland like "The Butcher Boy," with grinding poverty, violence, child-molesting priests, the IRA, police brutality and a pervading sense of hopeless, gloomy destiny.
O.K., so it is isn't entertaining, except to those who like gloomy films, but it is pretty well constructed and there is a very good performance by the main character, Martin Cahill (Brendan Gleeson of "Lake Placid"). For those of you who saw "Lake Placid," by the way, Gleeson's transformation from one film to the other is a wonder to behold.
Cahill is a thief, but not a petty one. He is able to devise complex plans with the cunning of a great military tactician to circumvent the best security arrangements and systems. He steals millions and sets himself up like a Mafia godfather, doling out money to those in need.
Although he is rich in comparison to his friends and neighbors, there is a heavy price for his success as a thief. Envy, hatred and demands from his, friends, family and the IRA for his money. He is also pursued relentlessly by the police and the press. He has had to hide his face in public so long it becomes and old habit. He hides his face with his hand, or a mask, or a hood, like a monk.
He has a long-running battle with a police officer, Ned Kinney (Jon Voight of "Anaconda," who does a very fine Irish accent, by the way). Voight has a grudging respect for Cahill, but he is unable to keep his professional objectivity. He, and the other police find themselves sinking down to Cahill's level, and perhaps a lot lower than that.
What do we take away from this film? Is it an exercise in moral relativism? It certainly suggests the police are as corrupt, or more so than the thief, Cahill. It also seems to suggest there is no such thing as justice in the English legal system and that all levels of Irish society, including the Catholic Church are corrupt and all had a hand in making Cahill what he was. In a sense, it argues that Cahill had more of a sense of honor and fairness than did those who self-righteously condemned him.
This probably wouldn't have been such a thought-provoking film if it hadn't been based on a true story. Cahill is very much like "The Butcher Boy," Grown Up And It Is Telling That Eamonn Owens, Who Played "The Butcher Boy," also play's Cahill as a young boy in "The General." The acting is quite good throughout the film. This film rates a B.
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