1.85, ANA 2.35
What makes a criminal tick? Specifically, what made Martin Cahill
tick? Cahill, the Irish gang leader was responsible for masterminding a
number of audaciously high profile Dublin robberies during the late 1980s and
early 1990s. John Boormanís fascinating film examines Cahill through an
amazingly impartial lens. Though
Cahill is clearly Boormanís protagonist, the director and writer makes a black and white film that lives in the
shadows of ambiguity.
A stinging alibi. ©Columbia
There are a number of excellent heist sequences in The General. The
set piece is pure heist: a jewel robbery that lives up to the tradition of
the best film robberies. The economical depiction is brilliantly executed.
Boorman treats us to a devilishly revealing night robbery by
Cahill, an efficiently brutal small change assault, and an artful caper
involving the theft of precious paintings.
Cahill is examined in various circumstances. As a
family man Cahill shows his love and devotion in unusual fashion. As
ruthless gang leader, Cahill can be compassionate or brutal. As an
Irishman, Cahill displays a keen sense of injustice. A complicated Cahill
adds up to a complex and thought provoking film.
is a multi-faceted director. Visually, he comes up with many startling
images. Remember the hands rising out of the water in Deliverance and
There may not be a similar image that stands out in The General, but the
overall beauty of the film belies its inner city setting and dark themes.
Boorman uses selective slow motion elegantly in remembering the past
and he leads into the flashback structure of The General with a
visual audacity reminiscent of the way Martin Cahill attacked the heist.
Gleeson is wonderful playing Cahill. Gleeson takes on the physical quirks
of the bank robber and infuses the character with warmth and danger. There
isnít a screen moment when you doubt the veracity of Gleesonís
performance. The actor
captures the complexity of his man with his bear-like presence and
inquisitive eyes. Director Boorman surrounds Gleeson with an phalanx of
terrific actors. Jon Voight plays Inspector Ned Kenny with a totally
convincing Irish accent. When Voight confronts Gleeson, thereís pity,
disdain and anger in his eyes. Itís great to see the Voight acting
renaissance harking back to the actorís great performance in Deliverance
under Boorman. Adrian Dunbar and Sean McGinley are convincing as key
members of the Cahill gang and Mara Doyle Kennedy lends wonderful dignity
to Cahillís wife.
Tristar has produced a simply gorgeous DVD of The General. The creamy textures of the
black and white images are amazingly film-like. Columbia gives the DVD
owner a choice of watching The General either as intended by Boorman in
black and white or in the de-saturated color version in which it was shot.
Making some shot by shot compositions it is easy to understand the
dramatic power of black and white images. There is no edge enhancement and
yet the details stand out with grand perfection. Plenty of light output
and even-handed use of contrast emphasize the powerful images. The Dolby
Digital two channel sound is clean and detailed. The accented dialog is
often difficult to understand. You can opt to watch the film with English
subtitles and you won't miss a precious line.
Unfortunately, the DVD packaging and presentation
is a muddled affair. The General package indicated the movie is presented
in anamorphic widescreen 2.35 in both the black and white and de-saturated
color. Side A of the DVD indicates that it contains the black and white
version of the movie and side B the de-saturated color version. The
opposite is true. Fall more serious is that the black and white version is
cropped to 1.85, though I must admit it never appears severely cropped.
The solution is to play the de-saturated color version with the color
control turned completely down. Though this is truly an A rated disc, I
have dropped it down to B+ because of the above. Obviously, the ability to
turn down the color control on the de-saturated version mitigates the
handling of the black and white version.