Until recently, it's been hard to take in an Irish movie that hasn't had the IRA as its central theme. But the times are a-changing. Neil Jordan's The Butcher Boy focused on the crazed psyche of a highly imaginative child; now step forward the latest masterwork from veteran director John Boorman (The Emerald Forest, Deliverance).
Not based on a politicised or fictional character, the drama centres on the life of the late Irish Pink Panther-cum-Robin Hood Martin Cahill (nick- named The General). He's a man who liked to ridicule the establishment: a big boo-sucks to the police, the Church and, less conventionally, the IRA.
Boorman stylishly shoots Cahill's world in black-and-white and ties it together with a funky soundtrack, painting vivid, grainy images that'll stay with you long after the lights come up. It might sound like a fidgety arthouse piece: far from it. A well-sprung script and sharp character delineation reel you in from the start, and the unfolding story is layered with unpretentious humour that sometimes borders on the Pythonesque. The result is a heady combination of uncompromising realism and palpable hip.
But it's the performances that really give The General its schtick. Voight is compelling as the cop who has a bittersweet affection for the crook, while the gang members (including Sean McGinley and Adrian Dunbar) make a strong supporting cast. Gleeson wears the role of Cahill like a second skin, acknowledging all the criminal's complexities and charisma.
Despite a third quarter that drags somewhat, it's still one of the most engrossing films you'll see this year. And if this compelling and addictive little piece doesn't scoop a bag full of awards, then something is very, very wrong with the movie industry.