[Screen It]


(1998) (Brendan Gleeson, Jon Voight) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Mild Heavy Extreme Moderate Moderate
Mild None Minor None Extreme
Smoking Tense Family
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Drama: A charismatic robber foils the attempts of the police to catch him in the act during his crime spree in modern day Ireland.
In trouble with the law ever since he was a boy, Martin Cahill (BRENDAN GLEESON) is a modern day Irish thief. Along with his right-hand men, Noel (ADRIAN DUNBAR) and Gary (SEAN McGINLEY) and the rest of his "gang," Cahill is known for his daring, but brilliant heists along with his all too apparent disregard for any sort of established regime, including the police department.

Married to Frances (MARIA DOYLE KENNEDY), whose sister, Tina (ANGELINE BALL) eventually shares his bed with her sister's consent, Martin is a happy and carefree family man who enjoys spending as much time with his pigeons as he does in his chosen "occupation."

His exploits, however, have drawn the increased attention of Inspector Ned Kenny (JON VOIGHT), a dour police officer who's known Martin for some time. After the thief pulls off some more elaborate robberies, but has, as always, solid enough alibis, Kenny orders his men to put more heat on Martin.

Facing round the clock surveillance, Martin only sees this as yet another obstacle to overcome, but as the years pass, he must deal not only with Kenny and his men, but also dissent within his ranks and the ever increasingly dangerous interaction with the IRA that's none too happy with his exploits.

Not unless they're fans of someone in the cast, director John Boorman ("Deliverance," "Excalibur") or are interested in the real-life story behind the film.
For violence and pervasive language.
  • BRENDAN GLEESON plays a charismatic, but occasionally violent thief who finds joy in making fools of the police. He also sires children with his wife and her sister.
  • ADRIAN DUNBAR and SEAN McGINLEY play Martin's right-hand men who participate in the crimes with him.
  • MARIA DOYLE KENNEDY and ANGELINE BALL play Martin's wife and sister-in-law, both of whom bear children for him.
  • JON VOIGHT plays the police inspector determined to arrest Martin.


    OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
    In film school, writers and directors are often told to work with material with which they're somehow personally familiar, which should result in their work feeling more authentic. While we don't know if writer/director John Boorman ever took a rafting trip that led to a bad encounter with a bunch of backwoods rednecks ("Deliverance"), and it's most certain he didn't personally know King Arthur & Merlin ("Excalibur"), it has been reported that his house was actually burglarized by the subject of his latest film, "The General."

    Little known outside his native Ireland, Martin Cahill was the most notorious and easily the most charismatic criminal of the late 1980's and early 90's. Assassinated by the IRA after he got too involved in their drug dealings (a business that this film doesn't full explore), Cahill wasn't a murderer, but instead kept his lawbreaking activities limited to grand robberies and thumbing his nose at the police and any other establishments.

    Although Boorman doesn't readily make it known how he felt about being one of Cahill's "victims," he's certainly delivered an interesting, but not quite spectacular retelling of the thief's life. Shot in wide-screen black and white -- which gives the film a gritty, documentary feel -- Boorman doesn't deliver a full-blown bio-epic, but instead focuses on Cahill's better known exploits, including the ingenious heists of a wholesale jeweler and the theft of many rare paintings from a tightly protected collection.

    As brilliantly played by Brendan Gleeson ("I Went Down," "Braveheart"), Cahill is portrayed as a charismatic, carefree family man who could turn ruthlessly violent given the necessary catalyst. While the film doesn't completely glamorize the thief's notoriety -- the violent outbursts (including a difficult to watch pool table crucifixion of sorts) prevent the audience from getting too wrapped up in his exploits -- he is given something of the Robin Hood treatment.

    Despite occasionally bearing an uncanny resemblance to the late Benny Hill -- but reportedly also doing the same to the real McCoy, or, in this case, the real Cahill -- Gleeson delivers a standout performance that should win him many accolades along with more significant and high profile parts later in his career. Perfectly playing both sides of the robber's coin -- the carefree family man and the brilliant, and occasionally violent mastermind behind his gang's many heists -- Gleeson is always engaging in the role.

    The supporting performances are fine across the board, with Adrian Dunbar ("The Crying Game") and Sean McGinley ("The Butcher Boy") solid as Martin's right-hand men, and Maria Doyle Kennedy and Angeline Ball (both from the fabulous "The Commitments") decent as Martin's wife and sister-in-law.

    My biggest disappointment, however, was that Eamon Owens (who was frighteningly good in "The Butcher Boy") didn't get more screen time as the young Martin. While Boorman obviously wanted to keep his focus on the robber's later day exploits, the few scenes with Owens depict what could have been some powerful and fascinating early moments in Cahill's life -- events that presumably would have better explained the how's and why's of whom he later became.

    On the plus side, Jon Voight (re-teamed with Boorman from "Deliverance") finally gets to play the "good guy" after a recent turn playing big screen villains, and inhabits a part similar in tone to that of Inspector Javert (the officer pursuing Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables") who makes it his near lifelong quest to capture the criminal.

    While Voight is very good in his more restrained role, the part and the film somewhat suffer from the lack of significant screen time for his character, as well as any well conceived, outright conflict with his nemesis. Some of that does partially exist at times, but a more thorough fleshing out of his character would have added a greater dimension to the film, as well as better "battle of the wits" scenes between the two.

    That pretty much sums up the film's greatest problem. Despite the fine ensemble acting and Gleeson's tremendous lead performance, the picture -- while good and easy to watch -- never quite grabs you by the collar and pulls you into the story. Instead, the audience watches in joint amusement and disgust at the thief's exploits, but never gets fully entranced by, or wrapped up in the proceedings.

    Even so, there's enough here to keep the viewer interested, despite the fact that we know right from the beginning how the film's going to end (his assassination bookends the story). Filled with enough "fun" scenes depicting the criminals pulling off their carefully orchestrated heists, the use of alibis and decoys -- all of which are always favorites amongst fans of this sort of story -- along with a stellar performance from Gleeson, the film is never boring, but lacks the necessary and collective oomph to really take off. Good, but not as great as it might have been, we give "The General" a 7 out of 10.

    Here's a quick summary of the content found in this R-rated film. Profanity is extreme with nearly 90 "f" words and an assortment of others. Violence is also extreme, with several people being shot, others beaten, and another having nails driven through his palms (resulting in some bloody scenes).

    The criminals obviously have bad attitudes and while the film doesn't exactly glamorize Martin's exploits, some teens may think what he does is cool (such as fighting the "establishment"). The film also occasionally pokes some fun at priests being pedophiles, there's the fact that Martin sires children with his wife and sister-in-law (with the wife's consent), and some brief instances of nudity also occur.

    While it's questionable how many kids will want to see this film, you should take a look through what's been listed should you be concerned about its appropriateness for anyone in your home.

  • Some of Martin's men drink beer during various scenes.
  • Some women drink wine.
  • The guys talk about one man dying from using smack (heroin), one of their own, Jimmy, is reportedly an addict, and we later hear about some of Martin's men, as well as IRA members, selling drugs.
  • We see many empty beer cans in Gary's place as he takes a long swig of liquor straight from the bottle.
  • Martin, Frances and Tina have wine with dinner.
  • A man who's been shot has small, but bloody bullet holes in his head along with blood running down it (in black and white, like the rest of the following scenes).
  • A man's palm is very bloody after a nail has been driven through it.
  • A cop urinates on Martin and we see the stream.
  • A man's knee and pant's leg are bloody after he's been shot there.
  • We see Martin, who turns out to be a diabetic, insert a needle into his belly.
  • We see many dead pigeons, including one that has blood dripping down from it.
  • Obviously Martin and his cohorts have both for being criminals, intimidating or threatening witnesses and generally mocking the judicial system.
  • A priest tries to put his hand down under the covers of Martin's bed (and some may see the film as having both for portraying priests this way). Martin later tells a man (who "buggered" a 14- year-old girl) "Criminals don't molest kids. Leave that to the priests."
  • Martin witnesses a man sneaking out from one bedroom (with his presumed wife) and into another bedroom with another woman.
  • Martin sleeps with Tina, but with Frances' consent.
  • A cop urinates on Martin.
  • The police let a ferret loose in Martin's pigeon coop where it kills all of the birds (we only see the aftermath).
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may be tense to some viewers, but most aren't presented in that sort of fashion.
  • Believing that one of his men has stolen a bar of gold, Martin prepares to, and then does, drive a nail through the man's hand (and then leaves him that way waiting for him to confess).
  • Martin prepares and then shoots one of his men in the knee (who accepts his "punishment").
  • Handguns/Rifles/Automatic Weapons/Explosives: Carried and/or used to threaten, wound, or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "For f*ck's sakes," "Screw" and "Bugger" (both sexual), "Bastard," "Bollocks," "Scumbag," "Geez," "Pissing," "Knockers" (breasts) and "Take a piss."
  • Martin leads a life of crime and robberies (even during his youth) and until the end, makes it look like a fun and relatively easy thing to do.
  • Martin, as a boy and an adult, gives "the finger" to the police.
  • To punish his followers, Martin drives nails through one man's palms, and shoots another in the knee.
  • None.
  • A tiny bit of suspenseful music occasionally occurs.
  • None.
  • Due to the often thick Irish accents, some words may have not been heard.
  • At least 88 "f" words, 5 "s" words, 5 uses of "bollocks," 2 slang terms for male genitals ("pr*ck"), 1 slang term for breasts ("knockers"), and 18 uses of "Jesus," 2 of "Oh Jesus," and 1 use each of "Swear to God," "Jesus Christ," "Oh my Jesus" and "For Jesus' sakes" as exclamations.
  • We see the bare butts of many boys as they're being spanked by a priest for misbehaving.
  • A priest tries to put his hands under Martin's bed covers, but Martin stops him.
  • On a TV we see what may be just a brief flash of someone touching or pinching a nipple on a bare breast, but it's so brief it's hard to tell exactly what's being seen.
  • Martin witnesses a man sneaking out from one bedroom (with his presumed wife) and into another bedroom with another woman who we see in her underwear (and later in bed asleep with that man -- implying that they had sex).
  • Although we don't see anything, Martin sleeps with Tina (with Frances' consent) and she's later pregnant from their encounter(s).
  • We see a woman's bare breasts in a classic painting.
  • A cop asks Martin, "Which sister did you screw last night? Both?" Martin then replies, "Yours."
  • There's talk of one of Martin's men "buggering" a 14-year-old-girl.
  • We see just a brief glimpse of the upper part of Martin's butt as he's carried out of the courtroom after doing an impromptu striptease.
  • Some of Martin's men smoke during various scenes, and Kenny smokes cigars several times.
  • Other miscellaneous characters also smoke.
  • Some kids react to seeing their father shot to death (but this is very brief).
  • The historical accuracy of the film's portrayal of real events.
  • Martin's blatant disregard for the law and the police.
  • A man runs up to a car, pulls out a gun and shoots a man several times, killing him (this is seen twice).
  • A cop repeatedly knees Martin for stealing a pig.
  • A priest spanks Martin's and other young boys' bare butts for misbehaving.
  • Martin slugs a priest for trying to put his hand under the boy's covers, and the priest then repeatedly smacks and hits the boy for that.
  • Tenants throw items from their residences while others struggle with police as they're being evicted.
  • We see that the police have burned Martin's trailer.
  • Two of Martin's men rob a bank at gunpoint and later an arcade is also robbed at gunpoint.
  • Robbers spill change onto the street causing a policeman (also on a motorcycle) to crash.
  • A car's engine explodes, injuring the driver inside.
  • A police interrogator hits and kicks Martin.
  • Martin shoots out a street light with a rifle (as part of a master plan to pull off a huge robbery).
  • The robbers throw what is essentially a Molotov cocktail into their getaway car, causing it to burst into flames.
  • Believing that one of his men has stolen a bar of gold, Martin prepares to, and then does, drive a nail through the man's hand (and then leaves him that way waiting for him to confess).
  • Neighbors throw things at one of Martin's men and his house, believing him to be a drug dealer.
  • A group of criminals briefly clash with a group of anti-drug neighbors and during this we hear a gunshot (but no one is apparently hurt).
  • We see that one of Martin's men has been roughed up quite a bit by some unseen IRA members.
  • A cop purposefully trips Martin.
  • Police purposefully smash their car into Martin's.
  • Martin sets a car on fire.
  • Kenny punches and kicks Martin.
  • Martin throws and overturns items in Gary's home and then deliberately shoots him in the knee.
  • The police let a ferret loose in Martin's pigeon coop where it kills all of the birds (we only see the aftermath).

  • Reviewed November 30, 1998 / Posted on December 18, 1998

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