MY NAME IS JOE - PAYBACK - RUSHMORE
MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE - THE GENERAL

MY NAME IS JOE

In Glasgow, Scotland, Joe Kavanuagh (Peter Mullen, 1998's Best Actor winner at Cannes) is on the dole and on the wagon, coaching the city's losingest soccer team with high spirits.  His favorite player Liam (David McKay) is undergoing tough times, trying to keep his wife off heroin and his young son fed.  Joe meets their social worker Sarah (Louise Goodall) and an unlikely romance bridging economic classes blooms.  The relationship is put in jeopardy when Sarah, who sees life in black and white, is confronted with a gray decision Joe's made in order to save his friend in "My Name is Joe."

Laura's review of 'My Name Is Joe'
British director Ken Loach usually makes socially conscious films that are a cross between the British 'Kitchen Sink' films of the 50's and documentaries.  He continues in that vein with "My Name is Joe," which is his slickest, most accessible and best film to date (although, as with his "Riff Raff," Loach subtitled this film to help American audiences slice through the thick Scottish accents).

Peter Mullen ("Braveheart") gives an assured, deftly textured performance as the title character.  Joe may not be perfect, but his heart is good. We're introduced to him at his AA meeting (hence the film's title) where he inspires new members without revealing the incident which caused him to turn his life around.  It's entirely believable that the more well-grounded (and financially more secure) Sarah would give Joe a chance.

Louise Goodall (of Loach's "Carla's Song") appears to be perfect for Joe, although we learn that she has something in her past that haunts her as well (and to the film's credit, we can only guess what it is).  She rejects Joe twice (another writing plus - both reasons are rooted in the same cause), first over a gift she deems too much too early, then later when she discovers Joe's lied about working with drug dealers to get Liam out of a no-win jam.  David McKay ("Braveheart") fleshes out Liam as more than a victim - he's a young man in an impossible situation trying to cope the best he can.

Paul Laverty's screenplay never takes the easy route.  He's written very real characters who are good people facing the unfair hands that real life often deals.  He deftly blends humor into these peoples' lives until his only recourse is inevitable tragedy.

A-

Robin's Review of 'My Name Is Joe'
"My Name Is Joe" is a film in two parts. Part one is a slice of life story and a character study, by Peter Mullan, of Joe Kavanagh. During this portion of the film, we get to know Joe, his life, his past, present and future. Joe is a real person, the kind of  guy that you may really know He's a recovering alcoholic who is coping with his own unemployed life while volunteering to coach a teen "football" team. He really cares for his players, especially Liam (David McKay, "Brave Heart"), a kindred spirit trying to stay off of drugs.

Part two brings the other characters more fully into the picture as Joe develops a liking, turning into love, for social worker Sarah (Louise Goodall, Loach's "Carla's Story"). The relationship between Joe and Sarah starts slowly but builds to a sudden and unexpected turn. The couple have the true feel of, well, a couple. The concern he feels for his young friend, Liam, who is in deep to the local crime lord, McGowan (David Hayman, "The Jackal"), for drugs, grows as the screws get turned on the lad. Joe puts himself on the line for the boy, who, in turn, does the same for Joe, to a mortal end.

Director Ken Loach is known for marching to his own cinematic drummer. His body of work deals with working class life in Britain and Ireland - unemployment, being on the dole, single-parenting, debt, homelessness are all the fodder for Loach's camera. His unique view of life is evident in his varied works, from "Riff Raff," dealing with itinerant construction workers, to "Ladybird, Ladybird," about an abused single mother of four, and "Raining Stones," concerning an unemployed dad and his debt to a ruthless mobster. Loach is a no holds barred director and he continues with "My Name Is Joe." If anything, this tale about the title character is his most accessible films, yet.

Supporting cast is solid, but the film belongs to its star, Peter Mullan. Mullan, who appeared in "Braveheart", Danny Boyle's "Trainspotting," and Loach's own "Riff-Raff," makes a big leap into a lead roll. He is such a likable actor, with an honest face and a glint of humor in his eyes. That Joe a believable, three-dimensional person who I, personally, would like to know, make Mullan's an Oscar worthy performance, even if the Academy doesn't realize it.

The blue collar Glaswegian accents are sometimes a wee bit hard to understand, so Loach subtitles the film as he did in "Riff-Raff." This is a big help for us dialect-impaired folk.

I give "My Name Is Joe" a B+.


PAYBACK

Porter (Mel Gibson) and Val (Greg Henry) have the perfect crime planned. Their heist of Chinese Mafia cash goes off smoothly and, since it's already hot, they're in the clear! When the time comes to split the loot, Val makes three critical mistakes: he takes Porter's share of the dough, he steals Porter's wife and he tries to murder his partner. Trouble is, Val picked the wrong man to screw with. Now, Porter wants revenge and, especially, his money in "Payback."

Robin's Review of 'Payback'
In a departure from the cultural good-guy icon usually associated with Mel Gibson, "Payback" has the super-star as a not-so-likable criminal who does not take being duped too well. Gibson, reprising the role also done by Lee Marvin in the 1967 John Boorman film, "Point Blank," based, too, on the Richard Stark novel, "The Hunter," comes across as a ruthless bastard - he'll waste a bad guy at the wink of an eye - but lacks the hard-boiled appeal of Marvin. Gibson's usual good guy persona in films works against him here. He isn't really a mean mother and you can identify with him, though that is not the intent.

Greg Henry, as Porter's former friend and current double-crosser, gives a suitably sleazy performance of greed, betrayal and a real stupid streak - when he and Porter's wife (Kara Unger) gun down Gibson's character, he gloats, but doesn't finish of his deadly companion. Big mistake. Henry, who has been a peripheral character actor in his earlier films (Brian DePalma's "Scarface" and "Body Double"), has a screen presence as the none-too-bright nemesis of Porter.

The supporting cast is populated with a host of veteran actors, though they are underutilized in the quickly paced crime thriller. David Paymer marks his place as a mob underling who aspires to be a major player in The Outfit and sees bagging Porter as his way in. Kris Kristofferson, William Devane and James Coburn play their mobster roles with ease. Bill Duke gives his corrupt Detective Hicks a presence above its two dimensions. Maria Bello is OK opposite Gibson as call girl Rosie, without a lot to do. Deborah Kara Unger ("The Game") is wasted as Porter's cheatin' junkie wife and is only on screen for a few minutes.

Production design by Richard Hoover ("Apt Pupil") has a retro look that has an ambiguous period feel with rotary phones, platform shoes and slightly older vehicles. The undefined time frame gives the film a through back appearance that gives it a kinship to the Boorman adaptation of the novel.

"Payback" is probably just a diversion for Mel Gibson in his screen idol career, but it is fun to see him make a move in a darker direction. His inherent likable persona lends his Porter a little too much of Mel, but he is helped by a good cast and a passable adaptation of the material by writer/director Brian Helgeland. It makes me want to see "Point Blank" again, for comparison.

I give it a B-.

Laura's review of 'Payback'
"Payback," adapted from Richard Stark's "The Hunter" (as was John Boorman's "Point Blank"), is being marketted as 'Mel Gibson is the bad guy.'  Well, not after Gibson reengineered the film (the original and still credited director, "LA Confidential" screenwriter Brian Helgeland, walked after disagreeing with his star).

That said, "Payback" is surprisingly entertaining and classic Mel.  It's certainly better than Gibson's past two efforts ("Lethal Weapon IV," "Conspiracy Theory"), if more violent.  Gibson's introduced pulling the nose ring off a drug dealer's face before he graduates to setting the mob on fire.  Gibson himself is shot and left for dead, hit by a car and ultimately, tortured with a hammer.  Are we having fun yet?

Well, yes, because Gibson's Porter is given some very funny lines which he delivers with such world weariness that succeed in not coming off like cliched one-liners.  When he catches up with his duplicitous former partner Val (Gregg Henry, "Star Trek Insurrection"), who's being enthusiastically serviced by dominatrix Pearl ("Ally McBeal's Ling, Lucy Liu), Porter sits back to 'let her work.'

"Payback" is blessed by a large supporting cast of great talent.  David Paymer ("Mr. Saturday Night") is Stegman, a squirrely underling of Val's whose bravery only exists when backed by fire power.  Maria Bello ("E.R.," "Permanent Midnight") is the call girl Porter wanted for his own, but couldn't have because he was married to Lynn (Deborah Kara Unger, "The Game"), who ended up double crossing him with Val anyway.  Director/actor Bill Duke ("Predator") is a crooked cop hoping to hit on Porter's action. William Devane is the first mob boss to be impressed with Porter's insanity.  James Coburn, unwinding after his serious turn in "Affliction," is fun as the next mob boss on Porter's way to the top who's more concerned about his fancy luggage than the lives of his henchmen.  Kris Kristofferson, all over the screen these days, adds little as Bronson, the man at the top who won't back down over Porter's $70,000.

"Payback" may not be a masterpiece, but it moves along.  It's fun to watch Gibson take on unbelievable odds through sheer craziness (and a little bit of plot rigging).

B-


RUSHMORE

Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is the editor of the school newspaper and yearbook, president of the French, German, Chess, Beekeeping and Astronomy clubs, captain of the fencing, double dodge ball and debate teams, director and author of Max Fischer Plays and a sophomore at Rushmore Academy. He's also a terrible student.  When Max meets millionaire alumnus Mr. Blume (Bill Murray), he finds a soulmate in their love for Rushmore. Unfortunately for Max, Blume falls for the woman Max has picked for himself - first grade teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams, "The Postman").

Laura's review of 'Rushmore'
Writer/director Wes Anderson and writer/producer Owen Wilson (both of "Bottle Rocket") blast one out of the ballpark with their sophomore effort "Rushmore." It's uniquely inspired lunacy that's an instant comedy classic and one of the best films of 1998 (it qualified for the 1998 Academy Awards with runs in NY and LA last year).

Newcomer Jason Schwartzman (son of Talia Shire) makes nerdiness both sexy and cool as Max.  Displaying nothing but confidence when his behavior would make a lesser mortal an outcast, Schwartzman's acting is the ying to Murray's yang.  Bill Murray has never been better as Blume, who sees himself in Max.  When Blume is eventually rejected by Miss Cross, who's still in love with her deceased husband (whom Max reminds her of), Murray quietly unravels in subdued comedic genius. (That Murray's withdrawal includes a scene of him bobbing in the middle of his swimming pool is reminiscent of "The Graduate," also points back to Max's pre-graduate.)

Seymour Cassell is Bert Fischer, Max's patient and supportive barber dad.  Brian Cox is the headmaster of Rushmore who's only too happy to expel Max when he attempts to build an aquarium for Miss Cross on the school's baseball diamond.  Olivia Williams glows as the object of obssessive affection.  Mason Gamble ("Dennis the Menace") is terrific as Max's much younger best friend Dirk, wise beyond his years. Also notable are Stephen McCole as Magnus, a Scottish bully, and Sara Tanaka as Margaret Yang, a serious student (who yearns for Max) at the public school he's forced to enroll at (where he becomes head of the cheerleading squad!).

Anderson and Wilson's screenplay is simply brilliant, creating unforgettable characters in hilarious situations.  Max's play adaptations are pieces of genius comedy in and of themselves (in his production of 'Serpico,' young Dirk is disguised as a nun at a stakeout with a cigarette dangling from his lips).  Each of the film's details, such as Max's business cards where he's always at ext. 23 of the school he's attending, glitters like a gem.

When Max discovers that Blume's stepping out with Miss Cross, he fills Blume's hotel room with bees, then later cuts his brake lines.  Blume reciprocates by calming driving over Max's bike a few times.  But when Blume's dumped, Max can't bear to see his former friend's breakdown, and attempts to get the two back together again (but only after having been firmly rebuffed by Miss Cross himself).  The constant references to a certain adolescent sexual act are as funny as they are off kilter.

Technical credits are top rate and the off the wall soundtrack perfectly utilizes such odd choices as John Lennon's 'Oh, Yoko.'

"Rushmore" still has me grinning days after seeing it.

A

Robin's Review of 'Rushmore'
For their sophomore effort, "Bottle Rocket" director/writer Wes Anderson and cowriter Owen Wilson have created a complex and wonderful fantasy tale in "Rushmore," with newcomer Jason Schwartzman and versatile veteran Bill Murray. "Rushmore," focusing on one young man, Max Fischer, who has an unbridled love for the title school, is a multi-layered tale of obsession, vengeance, friendship, love, loyalty and much more. The leap the young filmmakers have made from their amusing first effort to "Rushmore" is, at the very least, astounding. The maturity, subtle wit coupled with fresh slapstick, and fabulous principle performances make this the best comedy of the year, if not years.

Max Fischer is a brilliantly conceived character and Schwartzman gives a flawless interpretation of the remarkable young man. Max is not a good learner, but he is an ideal student in his love for his cherished Rushmore Academy. In his tenth and failing year at the school, Max is the social gadfly of the institution and, nearly single-handed, has established most of the school's extra-curricular activities, including its theater company, The Max Fischer Players. Though a poor student - he is failing all of his classes and has been put on sudden death probation - Max is the heart and spirit of Rushmore and his non-academic efforts are an homage to his school. Max is also creative and cunning and approaches every task (except his schoolwork) as a soldier going into battle - this is most evident in a feud that develops between Max and Blume. Max will revert to whatever means necessary, even tampering with the brakes on Blume's car. Jason Schwartzman is a true find and makes a major debut comedy splash.

Bill Murray is a master of poker faced humor and can make a mediocre movie entertaining. (see "The Man Who Knew Too Little"). When he has a vehicle that is equal to his talents, as is the case with "Rushmore," Murray can shine out. His Herman Blume, when we first meet him, is a burned out, cynical, millionaire steel magnate who has lost his interest in life until he meets Max. The young man's uncompromised love for Rushmore helps restore Blume to his own former optimism.

The relationship between Max and Blume is fully developed and goes through its own hard times when the two feud over the object their mutual desire - the elusive, enigmatic first grade teacher, Miss Cross (Olivia Williams, "The Postman"). Murray, in the aftermath of the "war" with Max, gives the best deadpan performance of a man fallen over the edge, bumping into walls and smoking two cigarettes at once.

Binding the terrific performances of Schwartzman and Murray is a tight, imaginative and funny original screenplay. Anderson and Owens weave a story, in a scant 93 minutes, that begins with Max and his love for Rushmore, his infatuation for Miss Cross, the feud with Blume, and their reconciliation. All this goes on while Max handles all of his extra curricular activities, including creating his own theatrical productions of "Serpico" and a Vietnam War epic, "Heaven and Hell." (The productions of the plays are almost worth the price of admission themselves.) The inventiveness of the script and its variety make "Rushmore" one of the most pleasant movie-going ventures out there.

Everything else about "Rushmore" hits the mark, too. The supporting cast displays some good to great performances, with Seymour Cassel, as Max's barber dad, giving a striking turn in a small role. Mason Gamble ("Dennis the Menace") is good as Max's young friend, Dirk, while Brian Cox ("Richard III") and Olivia Wilson and Luke Wilson ("Bottle Rocket") help to flesh out the film on the secondary character level.

The production design, by David Wasco ("Pulp Fiction"), is high quality and meets the imagination of the screenplay. Camera work, by Robert Yeoman ("Drugstore Cowboy"), also fits the humor of the story and meets the variety of its needs.

"Rushmore" is a brilliant piece of comedy genius that is a treat to the viewer. It provides variety and entertainment every minute. There is an originality to the story that comes along far too infrequently in this business. It is great fun and gets a well-deserved A.


MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

Based on Nicholas Sparks' New York Times bestseller, "Message in a Bottle" is directed by Luis Mandoki ("When a Man Loves a Woman)" and stars Robin Wright Penn as Theresa Osborne, a divorced, single mother and researcher at the Chicago Tribune who, while alone on holiday, finds the bottle of the title on a deserted beach. The letter, a declaration of love to an unknown Catherine and signed simply "G," moves Theresa so deeply, she uses, even abuses, the resources at her fingertips to search for the man who can love someone so deeply. Her hunt takes her to a small town on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where she finds the elusive Garret Blake (Kevin Costner). The pretty Theresa awakens long dormant feelings in the sailboat builder, helping him to stop his grieving and join the living world once again.

Robin's Review of 'Message In A Bottle'
Oh, boy! Just when I thought it was safe to go back to the theater - it has been a while since "Meet Joe Black"  - Warner Bros. releases "Message in a Bottle." From the silly screenplay adaptation by Gerald DiPego ("Phenomenon") to the numbingly boring performance by Kevin Costner (why he keeps getting these "prestige" films, I don't know), "Message"" has nearly nothing to compel all but the most die-hard romantic to see it. The story, which runs for over two hours, takes a nice simple story of two lonely people rediscovering love and stretches it to a thin wisp of nothing. The shallow script and one of Costner's worst performances ever make for a narcotic experience for the viewer - especially guys.

I do say nearly nothing compels, except two small saving graces – the all-too-brief appearances by Paul Newman as Garret's savvy old dad, Dodge, and outstanding technical credits, particularly the strikingly beautiful photography  by the great Caleb Deschanel ("The Right Stuff").

Costner, who has had a string of duds and near duds since "Dances With Wolves" (see "Waterworld" and "The Postman"), plays the character, Garret Blake, as a somnambulist - a pretty boring one - going through the motions of emotions. Costner, who is supposed to be a man psychologically devastated by the loss of his wife two years before, comes across as a little dimwitted and emotionless, almost simple. I liked Costner's earliest performances, like "Bull Durham" and "No Way Out," but it has been a long, long time since I have seen him in a role where I like him as an actor. Since he received his "Saint Kevin" status following "Dances With Wolves," the caliber of his acting has diminished to the status of boring cultural icon. If there is a list of bad performances for the year, Costner will be a major contender for the honors.

Robin Wright Penn, thankfully, puts a different spin on her character, Theresa, than we saw in "She's So Lovely" and "Hurlyburly." In these latter films, she was two-dimensional, play both roles the same, with a cynicism that did not gain any sympathy. As Theresa, Wright Penn is a likable young woman, dedicated to her son and her job, who is captivated by the mystery of the message in the bottle. Theresa has the resources to find the whereabouts of the author and, though the circumstances are totally implausible, tracks him down in a not totally unbelievable manner.

The best thing in the film, as I said, is Paul Newman as Costner's father. Although he only has a brief amount of time on-screen, that little amount of time is marvelous to watch. Newman exudes a true presence on the big screen that save the scenes in which he appears. His Dodge has seen highs and lows in life and tries to give his son, always, the benefit of his experience and his love. Too bad he is not in more of the film – the filmmakers would have done better to just have Newman in every scene. He would just have to stand there, maybe reading the phone book, or something. When he is in the film, it is good. When he is not, it fails miserably.

I have read other books by Nicholas Sparks. He tends to draw his characters and their circumstances with a marked similarity. Perhaps if the adaptation had been more tightly handled - at 2+ hours long, the film could have had 35-40 minutes chopped out - a better (at least, shorter) film would have evolved.

Some might call "Message"" a mellifluous story of old love lost and longed for, new love found and the rebirth of a tortured soul. Some might, but I would not. I found it to be a shallow story told with such pretension that it tries to place itself as a great, moving romance. In fact, it is an extraordinarily boring piece of Hollywood pabulum that numbs the mind to near catatonia. If I had a reading lamp, I would have read a book while the film ran.

I don't know the book, so I won't judge it - yet. The screenplay presents one ridiculous premise after another and expects us to swallow them all. For starts, the title character - the message. OK. I can go along with the sheer possibility that someone might actually accidentally find a bottle with a message in it. As the film goes on, we are told that three, count 'em, three bottle were cast into the stormy Atlantic two years before and all were found! If the US Postal Service were that reliable, Federal Express wouldn't exist. At this point, suspension of disbelief was terminated. Then, Garret and Theresa have a marshmallow fight on the beach. Really.

A sentimental segment of the film-going society will fin some appeal in "Message in a Bottle." I am not in that segment and advise, especially to you guys, if you get dragged into the theater to see this dog, run, don't walk to the nearest exit. I give it, only because of Newman and tech credits, a D+.

Laura's review of 'Message In A Bottle'
Kevin Costner desperately needed a hit after "The Postman" debacle. This not only isn't it, but hopefully will demote Costner to the lesser rank where he belongs.  Most enlightened filmgoers will give wide berth to this treacly Hollywood button pusher.

Based on the best selling novel by Nicholas Sparks (which I haven't read), the screenplay would have us believe that not one, but THREE messages in a bottle have been found.  Robin Wright Penn is a divorced mother who works at the Chicago Tribune as a research assistant for columnist Charlie Toschi (Robbie Coltrane) who finds Garrett's emotional letter to his deceased wife on a Cape Cod beach.  Deeply moved, Theresa shares the letter with her coworkers.  She's incensed when Charlie runs the letter in the paper, but it becomes a public phenomenon resulting in bags of mail.  One of the letters encloses a second missive to the departed Catherine, and news of a third prompts Theresa to track down this ideal sounding man (which she does via the custom stationary plus a mention of the Great Banks and boat restoration).  Of course she falls in love with Garrett, and of course their budding romance is threatened when he discovers their meeting was orchestrated because of the letters.

Robin Wright Penn, an actress who normally fails to make much of an impression, does better work here than the film deserves.  She's particularly good reacting to the realization that her old newspaper buddy Charlie is in love with her.  Paul Newman brings the movie out of its doldrums whenever he appears as Garrett's crusty old alcoholic dad.  His scenes with Wright Penn are the best in the film.  Kevin Costner is coma inducing as Garrett, chosing to portray sensitivity and grief by keeping his face a blank mask and saying his few lines in a dull monotone.  Coltrane is jolly and enervated, but the rest of the supporting cast does little to inject any life into the proceedings.

Novelist Sparks apparently keeps retelling the same story, as his "The Notebook" features central characters who are almost identical to Garrett and Catherine.  Steal the central concept of "Sleepless in Seattle" and you've got "Message in a Bottle."  I'm not sure if the scene was present in his book or introduced by screenwriter Gerald DiPego ("Phenomenon"), but a 'falling in love' montage incredibly features Costner and Wright Penn having a marshmallow fight on a beach.  A subplot about the rage Catherine's family feels because Garrett wasn't good enough for her makes little sense.

"Message In a Bottle" is only for those who enjoy going through a box of Kleenex weeping at the drop of a hat.

C-


THE GENERAL

Written, directed and produced by John Boorman (1998's Best Director winner at Cannes), "The General" begins with famed Dublin criminal Martin Cahill's (Brendan Gleeson, "Braveheart") assasination by the IRA in 1994, then makes its way back to his childhood (where's he's played by "The Butcher Boy's" Eamonn Owens) where Martin's thievery kept food on his family's table and his mother in cigs.  A clowning family man who could be brutal when necessary, Martin's unorthodox household included a brood of kids mothered by both his wife and his sister-in-law. Cahill's massive chutzpa and thumbnosing at the police, who could never get the evidence they needed to pin any of his crimes on him, made him a folk hero and legend.

Laura's review of 'The General'
Brendan Gleeson's Martin Cahill is a man who doesn't drink or play around with women (well, his wife did allow him to 'keep it in the family' when he professes to missing Tina, his sister-in-law).  He loves his kids and takes care of his mates (unless he suspects one of a double cross). Gleeson very assuredly convinces as a man who's in the game for the sheer thrill of it rather than financial gain.  (In fact, when the police begin questioning his ability to purchase his fine home, etc., he chastises his wife about becoming attached to material things as they can control you.)  His only vice, cream cakes, prove to almost be his undoing when he collapses from diabetes.  Gleeson uses Cahill's penchant for covering his face in multi-facetted ways (in one scene he reminded me of Malcom MacDowell in "A Clockwork Orange," so wide were his eyes beneath his shielding fingers).

Support is top notch, beginning with Jon Voight's Inspector Kenny, a man who's been after Cahill since he was a small boy.  Voight disappears into the role of a man on the right side of the law whom the audience may rightly suspect of almost admiring, even liking, his foe.  (Cahill makes a habit of spending time at the police station during some of his gang's robberies in order to establish an alibi.  He actually deposits 80,000 pounds cash at a bank for a downpayment on his wife's dream house only to have it stolen minutes later!)

Eamonn Owens, so wonderful in "The Butcher Boy" this time last year, was a perfect choice to play Cahill as a young lad.  His mother's dismayed when he arrives with a sack of stolen potatoes, only to be cajolled when he also has a pack of cigarettes for her.  (Boorman, intentionally or not, ties his film to Owens' debut, as Cahill is shown stealing a whole slaughtered pig and the elder Cahill usually wears tee shirts with pigs on them.)

Also notable are Adrian Dunbar ("Hear My Song") as Cahill's right hand man Noel, Maria Doyle Kennedy as his loving wife Frances and Angeline Ball as the sister-in-law who can't find a better man than the one her older sister's found.

Shot in widescreen color (Seamus Deasy helmed the camera) and processed in black
and white, the film is gorgeous.  Editted by Ron Davis, we're presented with scenes of Martin seamlessly carrying on a series of conversations behind the glass wall of a prison holding room where Martin never changes as his visitors do, manic chase scenes through the streets and alleys of Dublin, and beautifully orchestrated robberies that seem to succeed more because of Cahill's cheek than his smarts.

OK, so we've seen a man staked to a pool table before ("The Krays"), but here, the responsible person (Cahill, of course) realizes he was mistaken and takes his victim to the hospital.  Boorman's screenplay blends a good dose of humor into the mayhem.  When Cahill is relentlessly tailed by the cops, he manages to outwit them going to retrieve a stolen Vermeer by simply driving until they run out of  gas in the middle of nowhere  The jazzy score by Richie Buckley (not the expected Irish music) perfectly accents the action on the screen.

"The General" is a unique spin on the familiar Robin Hood tale, as its 'hero' only really gives to the poor by the vicarious thrills they get from his rebellious success against the establishment.

A-

Robin's Review of 'The General'
Director/writer John Boorman's ("Deliverance") long anticipated biography of the late Dublin crime boss, Martin Cahill, has finally arrived and represents a solid telling of the story about a unique individual. The film starts at the end of Cahill's life in a violent assassination, then flashes back to the young Martin (Eamonn Owens) and the beginning of the making of a criminal.

Martin, in his early career as a breaking and entry man, is shown to be audacious and sentimental as he brashly burgles wealthy homes, but takes the time to steal toys for his kids, too. Martin is a thief with a heart, but he can also be quite ruthless if the situation demands it. Brenda Gleeson gives a studied and mannered performances as the renegade crime lord who has the brass to go toe to toe with the law as well as the IRA. Throughout the film, Gleeson adopts what must have been a trade mark of the real Cahill, covering his face whenever in public, like a celebrity hiding from the paparazzi.

The story, by Boorman, is a solid crime drama sprinkled with anecdotal humor as Martin builds his reputation as a criminal leader, show the outright audacity of the man as he performs one crime after another under the very noses of the police. In one in-your-face move, Martin takes 80 thousand pounds to the local bank to get a cashier's check in order to buy his wife a home. No sooner is the ink dry on the check when Martin has two of his henchman steal the money right back in a daring daylight robbery. The pinnacle of his crimes involves the theft of millions in artwork, including a Vermeer painting worth 20 million pounds - this theft, though, is also Cahill's downfall as he crosses paths, to his ultimate loss, with the IRA.

Joining Gleeson, for name recognition here in the states, is a marvelous Jon Voight as police inspector Ned Kenny. Providing a dead-on Irish accent, Voight fleshes out Kenny into a real person as the pair move up the ladder in their each chosen profession. Voight's Kenny goes from beat cop to sergeant to inspector in a parallel with Martin moving up from petty thief to small time hood to crime boss of Dublin. As the story progresses, Inspector Kenny takes on more of the ways of Martin until, in one scene, he actually hides his face in the same way as Cahill.

Except for the striking perf by Voight, the film really belongs to Gleeson, with the rest of the supporting cast doing yeoman's work without a great deal of dimension. Adrian Dunbar ("Hear My Song") plays Martin's faithful right hand man solidly, but without distinction. Marie Doyle Kennedy and Angelina Ball play Cahill's wife and mistress/sister-in-law, respectively, keeping any infidelities Martin may plan within the family. (The real Cahill sired several children with each woman.)

The production is in black and white, with color film used to shoot the footage, then processed as black and white. The effect is to give the film a dated, 50's crime noir look with the B&W film lending a striking contrast in the films later scenes.

The film's score, by Ireland's leading jazz performer Richie Buckley, is a moody collection of bluesy riffs that, with the black and white film, lend to the 50's feel. The jazzy score also lends itself well to the getaway scenes, giving the scenes an additional excitement.

The solid effort by Boorman and company behind the camera, and Gleeson in front, make "The General" an interesting, entertaining view into the life of an Irish crime legend who is almost a Robin Hood, but not quite.

I give "The General" a B+.


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