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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Sunday July 13, 2014 - Edition No 905 

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GENERAL, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Young Martin Carhill (Eanna McLiam) grew up in a Dublin slum, where crime was the main occupation. He was sent to a correction school when caught stealing food for his family and grew up with a resentment of authority. In his adult life, Martin Carhill (Brendan Gleeson) organised a number of daring and carefully planned robberies, gaining the sobriquet, 'The General'. Though ruthless, irreverent and quick-tempered, Cahill was in many ways a surprisingly conventional man. He didnít drink or smoke, and he was a loving if unconventional husband, living with both his wife Frances (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and her sister Tina (Angeline Ball). But Cahillís brazenly defiant attitude made him many enemies, and finally both the police Ė led by Sergeant Ned Kenny (Jon Voight) Ė and the IRA set out to hunt him down.

"From the first moment of The General, Boormanís sense of cinema stands out; itís not what you shoot itís how you shoot it. Martin Carhill was a thug, a nasty villain with barely a redeemable feature, frankly, although the film imbues him with some mysteriously forged charisma. Boorman tries not to glamourise his anti-hero and shows his amorality, but he also plays with the manís contradictions, presenting us a character we canít loath or despise, and even forming a judgement about his notorious deeds is difficult, considering the circumstances of his life. But the black and white photography gives Boorman a distinct edge in this subtle game, and the decision to avoid colour was possibly the most crucial. Everything flows from that, in cinematic terms. Gleesonís performance is riveting, a robust, compelling and articulated portrait of a man whose cunning and wit were wasted in a life full of holes. But Gleeson manages to convey the poignancy that Carhill never thought so. (By the way, itís a great pleasure to see Jon Voight back with the director who made him a star, in Deliverance, one of the top adventure dramas ever made.) The General is something of a salute to Boormanís talents and to cinema in general, with great images and enough grunt to satisfy the hungriest cinephile."
Andrew L. Urban

"This portrait of a maverick refers once or twice to Citizen Kane, and like Orson Welles, John Boorman is brilliant at coming up with striking shots and vignettes. A long tracking shot as a priest saunters down a row of bare bums awaiting punishment shows childhood in a few unforgettable images. Even in a supposedly factual story of poverty and desperation, his style is anything but drably realistic. Robberies turn into street theatre, or are given a magical night-time allure: Cahill as a burglar shines his torch on the faces of sleeping children, rummages in bathroom cabinets, steals gently past all the detritus of ordinary lives. The lyricism is apparently in total contrast to the unromantic hero, with his stocky working-manís body and cynical grin. It takes a huge imaginative leap to see this down-to-earth thug as any kind of mystery, but Boorman insists on his strangeness: repeatedly he returns to an image of Cahill with his face partially hidden, reduced to a single enigmatic eye that darts about like a fish in dark water. Finally, however, the biopic format canít do much more with the character than present him in his various guises as ruthless operator, cheeky rebel against the system, and decent family man. The overall message is equivocal: as in most gangster films, scenes of gruesome violence are balanced by the heroís occasional scruples and self-justifications, and by a sense that his attractive energy is the one authentic thing in a false society (ĎNobody believes in nothiní anymore...except meí). But if finally Cahill doesnít seem large or interesting enough to justify Boormanís fascination, itís still quite an amazing film."
Jake Wilson

"The gangster genre remains one of cinema's most colourful, and tends to follow a conventional pattern. The British, however, seem to tackle seemingly simple material in a complex and provocative way, and John Boorman, a true cinematic master, delivers the goods here. Boorman deservedly won the Best Director prize at Cannes this year, for his involving, meticulous take on the life of an Irish crime lord. While the film may occasionally romanticise Cahill's exploits, Boorman is as much concerned at exploring the social divide of Ireland at the time, and the unusual relationship between the crime figure and the IRA. The film is not your typical gangster movie, but a sharply defined study of Irish class divisions, and Carhill poking fun at the Establishment. Laced with a dry wit, a wink and a nod, The General is a beautifully crafted masterpiece of contemporary British cinema, Boorman at his best since the days of Deliverance. It's his first crime thriller since his unforgettable Point Blank, and it's clear that the filmmaker has lost none of his style and depth. Glorious to look at in stunning black and white, Seamus Deasy's amorphic camerawork so beautifully captures the diversity of southern Ireland, as does Richie Buckley's evocative music. The performances are nothing if not hypnotic, but the film clearly belongs to Gleeson. Powerful, strong, cheeky and deeply human, he goes against the grain of conventional crime figures, and is spellbinding, as he so beautifully captures all of Martin's foibles. As his reluctant police nemesis, Jon Voight is masterful, delivering one of his most unforgettable performances in years. The General is a fine, powerful, funny and meticulously crafted film, a detailed examination of a man fighting against the ingrained poverty of a society torn apart. It's by far not your average crime thriller; as a Boorman film, it rises well above one's expectations."
Paul Fischer



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 0

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"Enough grunt to satisfy the hungriest cinephile."
Andrew L. Urban

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See Paul Fischer's interview with
JOHN BOORMAN

TRAILER

GENERAL, THE (M15+)
(US)

CAST: Brendan Gleeson, Jon Voight, Adrian Dunbar, Sean McGinley, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Angeline Ball, Eanna McLiam, Tom Murphy

PRODUCERS: John Boorman

DIRECTOR: John Boorman

SCRIPT: John Boorman

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Seamus Deasy

EDITOR: Ron Davis

MUSIC: Richie Buckley

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Derek Wallace

RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 6, 1999

TRAILER

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