The General Review

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The real-life story of Dublin folk hero and criminal Martin Cahill, who pulled off two daring robberies in Ireland with his team, but attracted unwanted attention from the police, the IRA, the UVF and members of his own team.

★★★★

Put together for next to nothing on the good name of its writer-director-producer John Boorman, The General, shot in lustrous black-and-white, is the extraordinary true story of Dublin folk hero and wanted-man Martin Cahill.

Working contrary to the crateloads of wistful comedies and political deadpans that creak out of Ireland each month, this manages hard edged and comedic, a convincing character study, that doesn't concern itself with upending the political strife of that fair isle. It's easy to see how Boorman became so passionate about his subject; Cahill's short but jam-packed tenure in the world, was that of a modern-day Robin Hood. He laughed in the face of the establishment in his quest for bent cash, notoriety and a nifty alibi.

Structured around two spectacular heists, the script reconstructs his greatest exploits, depicting a man loyal to family and his working class community and who, in the support of his off-centre values, was quite capable of sadistic brutality. Gleeson is superb as Cahill, allowing his incredible spirit and criminal guile while ceding the essential brazen naivety that was his unmaking. In support, there is a host of familiar Irish faces; Maria Doyle Kennedy and Angeline Ball from The Commitments (as his wife and her sister, both of whom mothered his children), Adrian Dunbar and Sean McGinley leading his gang, plus Jon Voight, delivering a solid accent and lack of pretence in the foil role of Cahill's cop nemesis Ned Kennedy.

It gets cramped by its black-and-white artiness (after all, Cahill is the very epitome of a colourful character) and Boorman is never completely secure about where his moral ground lies. Minor quibbles, though.

A fulsome, fascinating piece of 20th century Irish folklore.