The home of director John Boorman was one robbed by Martin Cahill, whostole, among other things, the gold record from Boorman's wall for"Dueling Banjos," the hit single from his film "Deliverance." That sceneis included in Boorman's 1998 film "The General," along with Cahill'sdisgust at learning gold records are not made of gold, and helps toestablish the idea that Cahill is an engaging rogue. Most of thatparticular task is accomplished by Brendan Gleason, who creates such alikeable character that when he nails one of his men to a snooker table toforce a confession, we are inclined to overlook the act of violence.
I checked out "The General" after watching "Veronica Guerin," in whichCahill's murder is an early scene. Ironically, both films begin the sameway, with the death of the title character. We then go back to the pointin their lives where the filmmaker begins to explain how they came to sucha violent end. Cahill starts off stealing potatoes and promising youngFrances that he will never be caught. Having been forced to break thispromise once he grows up to be man who plans on avoiding returning toprison by planning his robberies with such care than he is nicknamed "TheGeneral." But he also has a great sense of flair, which he demonstrateswhen his wife and mistress, who happen to be sisters, persuade him to buya house for 80,000 pounds. Then there is his habit of always wearing ahood or having his hand in front of his face in public so that his picturecan never be taken.
The Dublin police play into making Cahill look good by sinking to hislevel and well below. There is also the clear implication at the start ofthe film that there were complicit in Cahill's murder, although more by anact of omission than commission. So when the police put first Cahill andthen his gang under 24-hour surveillance, we enjoy it as he finds a seriesof ways to get the better of them, with relative ease. In the end, it isnot his dealings with the police, but rather his disdain for the IRA thatis going to get him killed.
Jon Voight plays Ned Kenny, the cop turned inspector who is supposed to beCahill's nemesis, but who does not really get to do enough to even be amodel of futility in his pursuit of the criminal and his gang. AdrianDunbar as Noel Curley and Sean McGiley as Gary are Cahill's chief henchmenand it was a treat to see two-thirds of the backup singers from "TheCommittments" showing up in this film, with Maria Doyle Kennedy as Francesand a black tressed Angeline Ball as Tina.
I keep seeing comparisons between Cahill and Robin Hood, followed by aninevitable caveat that Cahill took from the rich and kept it for himself,but I think that misses the mark. Cahill is more in the mode of JesseJames, who also enjoyed popular support in his community without alwaysspreading around the wealth. The American outlaw also had more of aviolent streak, even in the popular folklore about his robberies, than theoutlaw of Sherwood Forest. Consequently I see the Robin Hood analogy asanother attempt to make Cahill look better than he was, which Boorman'sfilm has absolutely no trouble doing. In the end, "The General" isneither a celebration of Cahill's life nor a warning about the path to beavoided, but a look at a captivating rogue, which is always an interestingjourney.