Before he was Mad Eye Moody, before he took Colin Farrell to the woodshed “In Bruges,” before “The Guard,” the great Irish actor Brendan Gleeson was the infamous Irish crook known as “The General.”
Director John Boorman cast Gleeson in the title role in this 1998 film, Gleeson’s big break, which is now on Netflix and well work a look.
Gleeson plays Martin Cahill, a notorious but also colorful Dublin thief and thug. Gleeson plays him with a playful swagger. The General was a fellow who planned and carried out robberies big and small –hitting a huge jewelry store, stealing a collection of famous paintings from a museum. He had a touch of the Robin Hood, or at least the lower class rebel about him.
They’re tearing down his subsidized housing complex? He defiantly stays on, refuses to leave, even after the building is destroyed and he has to move into a tent. He’s hounded, around the clock, by the cops who target him (Jon Voight leads them). He finds ingenious ways to slip under fences, invite a mob of friends over, putting them in matching sweatshirts and masks so the cops don’t know who to follow when they all leave the house.
Boorman makes great sport of Cahill’s ways of outsmarting the Gardai — the state police — driving all over creation until they run out of gas. Refilling his own tank and ditching them. The fellow comes as beloved, so adored that his adoring wife ( Maria Doyle Kennedy) gives him permission to carry on an affair with her younger sister (Angeline Ball).
But as with any Hollywood film of a famous criminal, there’s a lot of sanitizing going on. The violence of the cops is played up, and Cahill’s violence is downplayed — kidnapping, a bombing, etc.
Still, Gleeson is riveting, mimicking Cahill’s way of always hiding his face with his fingers (yeah, that’ll work), enduring a beating for the sake of an alibi, or a good legal threat against the cops who do the beating. We see the bluff and blarney and brooding character actor that our leading man here would soon become, one of the best of his generation.
A funny bit of trivia — “Deliverance” director Boorman was one of those robbed by the real Cahill, and that is referenced in the film as Cahill shrugs at the fact that “gold records” (or the “Deliverance” “Dueling Banjos” soundtrack) aren’t real.
MPAA Rating: R for violence and pervasive language
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Jon Voight, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Adrian Dunbar, Angeline Ball
Credits: Directed by John Boorman, scripted by Boorman and reporter Paul Williams, based on Williams’ book on Martin Cahill.
Running time: 2:04