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The General

Threat advisory: High - High risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

John Boorman's The General is based on the story of Martin Cahill, a notorious Dublin gangster who was the mastermind behind a series of daring robberies that stunned Ireland in the 1980s.

In a 20-year career marked by obsessive secrecy, brutality and meticulous planning, Martin Cahill (Brendan Gleeson) stole over 60 million dollars. Despite being Ireland's most wanted man, he brazenly eluded capture, thumbing his nose at both the police and the IRA, whom he despised along with the church and the state as institutional authority figures. He lived in a ménage à trois with his wife and her sister, siring several children with both. While images of Cahill regularly appeared in the press, they were always obscured, typically by Cahill's hand placed in front of his face. Although Cahill was a legend during his lifetime, his true identity remained an enigma.

Persons of interest

  • Brendan Gleeson .... Martin Cahill
  • Adrian Dunbar .... Noel Curley
  • Sean McGinley .... Gary
  • Maria Doyle Kennedy .... Frances
  • Angeline Ball .... Tina
  • Jon Voight .... Inspector Ned Kenny
  • Eanna MacLiam .... Jimmy
  • Tom Murphy .... Willie Byrne
  • Paul Hickey .... Anthony
  • Tommy O'Neill .... Paddy
  • John O'Toole .... Shea
  • Ciarán Fitzgerald .... Tommy
  • Ned Dennehy .... Gay
  • Vinny Murphy .... Harry
  • Roxanna Williams .... Orla
  • Pat Laffan .... Police Sergeant Patrick Higgins
  • Eamonn Owens .... Young Martin Cahill
  • Colleen O'Neill .... Patricia
  • Maebh Gorby .... Sylvie
  • Frank Melia .... Lawless
  • Ronan Wilmot .... James Donovan
  • Paul Williams .... Author
  • John Boorman .... Screenwriter
  • John Boorman .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

An' anudda point o' Guinness wi' dat, me lovely!

The General is about several things. Most noticeably it is about Martin Cahill, the general of a gang of thieves. It is his life, his lifestyle, and the way that affects those around him. It is also, we discover toward the end of the film, about Inspector Ned: his obsession with Martin and the depths to which he will sink to catch him.

Brendan delivers a well researched and subtly portrayed character who comes across as a loveable larrikin at the same time as we anticipate the arrival of his just desserts. Jon is also very good: Ned falls slowly but surely from completely confident representative of the establishment to a man who has failed in the greatest task he has set himself. Adrian, Sean, Maria and Angeline all support the developing story well and are never in any danger of being overwhelmed by it (not an easy task given the dramatic depths of Martin's life).

These days it's unusual to see a movie shot entirely in black and white; most filmmakers prefer the entertainment value of glorious Widescreen Technicolour to the hard-edged intensity of a good high-contrast black and white. It was a pleasant surprise for me to see the opening monochromatic frames continue on into the body of the film as there is usually the clichéd fade to colour as the flashback (or whatever) ends. I think that black and white was a good choice for The General as it adds a grittiness and a historicity that would not be present in colour. It's also a good change from that other stuff.

The General is an involving dissection of one man's life: dramatic, emotional and full on. Go see it.

Security censorship classification

M (Medium level violence, medium level coarse language, adult themes)

Surveillance time

124 minutes (2:04 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 6 May 1999

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