Columbia/1998/124m/ANA 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.
            Boorman is a multi-faceted director. Visually, he comes up with many startling images. Remember the hands rising out of the water in Deliverance and Excalibur. 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. 
            Brendan 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. 
         Columbia 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. 




























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