The General

The General

directed by John Boorman

Sony Pictures Classics

Let’s say you’re poor and Irish and starving and searching for a career in Dublin. Real estate? Telemarketing? Candle Stick Maker? Master criminal? THAT’S the ticket for Martin Cahill! Flexible hours, no benefits, meet interesting people and steal their stuff. As a boy, he vows to never get caught. Still, he spends a few years “inside,” and then succeeds in pulling off an astoundingly low stakes stick up at an arcade combine. He nicks a bag of 1 pound coins, which he dumps to lose the law hot on his tail. This helps for, oh, maybe 5 minutes. While on trial for this low-budget, low-risk, low-return job, he conceives, executes, and sort of gets away with a $69 million jewelry heist. In his spare time, Martin breaks into a law library to find a loophole in the burglary laws which gets him released. Breaking into a public library just to read a book — a true professional.

The wily Dublin Garda assign 20 cops to watch him 24 hours a day. Despite the cop-a-rama, Cahill heists several fine but hard to fence masters. He stashes them in a muddy hole until mildew makes them unidentifiable. A lovable rogue, but a lousy art conservator. Martin’s wife helpfully suggests he have a go with her sister. This cheers him, and soon he’s back to nailing his buddy to a snooker table for stealing. It’s all in a days work for The General . Cahill is compulsive about not showing his face in public due to his bad hair comb-over. Eventually he sells a traceable, easily identified, and unlikely to be found at a yard sale Vermeer to the wrong side in the Irish civil war. Bang bang, you’re dead, so much for that flash back.

The General was filmed in glorious black and white, insuring that future generations will not lose this gem to fading Kodacolor. The film is technically well done, with some of the best Foley work ever, but the main character is a right bastard, and deserves to die. You root for the cops as soon as they appear. There are some inspired moments of violence, and two very clever robbery schemes, but this film lacks understandable dialog. Like a number of recent Irish films, the dialect is so thick that subtitles are required even after two Guiness Stouts. The General is Irish Film Noir, and is burdened with Irish Accent Noir. It does show that crime doesn’t pay, at least not very well, if you’re hoping for a 401k plan.

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