So Film Ireland magazine is 25 years old. Over those years Ireland has produced some great films which have been successful both here and abroad – not to mention nabbing a few Oscars® along the way. And so over the next couple of weeks Film Ireland‘s army of cinema dwellers look back over the last 25 years and recall their favourite Irish films in the latest installment of…
25 Years of Irish Film
(John Boorman, 1998)
‘… the quiet, restrained cinematography and direction on-screen makes for something that is truly a work of art …’
The biography of Martin Cahill, one of Ireland’s most notorious criminals, was an instant bestseller. Naturally, a film adaptation beckoned. The story follows, for the most part, a dramatisation of Cahill’s exploits with fascinating detail. From his fiendishly clever robbery of Arthur Beit’s paintings to outfoxing the police with vandalism and humour, John Boorman’s black-and-white camera captured it all. However, the film wasn’t all hijinks and one-liners. The film’s tone felt like it could turn dark and violent at any point – as it was, undoubtedly, in reality.
The film’s quality was anchored by Brendan Gleeson’s power-house performance. Brilliantly mimicking Cahill’s wit and cunning, as well as his Dublin drawl, he carries the film and makes us root for him – even when we know how ruthless he truly was. However, his adversary throughout – Jon Voight – brings the film down in his unconvincing role as Ned Kenny. However, the film isn’t about Cahill versus the police, or even Cahill versus the system – as he often believed himself to be. The General tells the story of a criminal and his eventual downfall, the hubris that overtakes him and in the end, his acceptance of his fate.
‘You never own things. The things own you.’
Boorman’s direction is calm, collected and calculated – much like Cahill himself. His choice of using black-and-white footage, as well as the jazz score by Richie Buckley, gives the film a noirish quality that one would never think could work. And yet, it strangely does. The saxophone riffs that play gently over Gleeson’s nuanced portrayal works incredibly well and is in marked contrast to other crime dramas of the time. When compared to the likes of Scorsese or even Mann, the quiet, restrained cinematography and direction on-screen makes for something that is truly a work of art. As Cahill says himself in the film, ‘I know nothin’ about art. But I know what I like.’