This won for best director at Cannes? This is not the same John Boorman of “Deliverance” and “Point Blank”. It doesn’t even seem like the same guy who made “Zardoz”. At least this film answers the question, “Whatever happened to ‘the Commitments’?”
‘The General’ is the nickname for Martin Cahill (Brendon Gleeson), a lifelong criminal from the slums of Dublin. He received his nickname due to a series of elaborate, well-planned robberies during the 1980’s. Cahill had a notorious contempt for authority figures, chief among them being detective Ned Kenny (Jon Voight). After a massive art robbery, Kenny is allowed to place Cahill and his men under 24-hour surveillance, under which they begin to crack.
Now, aside from the lumbering pace of this movie, what bothered me was the sugar-coating of our “protagonists”. I’m sure Boorman would like us to believe Cahill is just another misunderstood, good-hearted Irish folk hero, but the “facts”, as presented in the movie, only tell us otherwise. These were thugs and junkies. Thinking one of his men stole from him, he nails his hand to a pool table. He terrorizes witnesses in his trials and double-crosses the IRA. After crimes, his men revert to drug use, and one of his men, while drunk, rapes his own daughter. Cahill attempts to bribe the daughter and the grandmother not to press charges. All portrayed as just a bunch of “lads” having fun. The only reason they run around so long is that Ireland apparently has the stupidest cops on the planet.
Cahill is never assigned blame for all the nastiness around him. The film avoids much depth of characterization in an effort to ignore the toll of Cahill’s actions on the people around him. He fathers children by both his wife and her sister (Maria Doyle Kennedy and Angeline Ball, both of “The Commitments”) but each is portrayed as nothing more than a loving concubine.
What is the point of this movie? Boorman’s movies are usually about the repercussions of violence (“Point Blank”, “Deliverance”, “Excalibur”, etc.) but he recreates Cahill as something of a victim of circumstance. Cahill should have been played by Lee Marvin, not by some fat teddy bear of a man like Brendan Gleeson. It’s too bad Marvin isn’t still around, to at least knock some sense into his old friend, Boorman.