January 25, 1999 12:00 PM

Brendan Gleeson, Jon Voight

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Martin Cahill (Gleeson), a real-life Irish thief who was nicknamed “the General,” snoozes on a bench at a Dublin police station while awaiting his longtime nemesis (Voight), an inspector. The cop arrives at work and, upon hearing that Cahill’s gang has just pulled off a big robbery while Cahill napped, angrily orders Cahill to scram. Cahill, his alibi established, happily trots off to the home he contentedly shares with his wife, her sister and the offspring he has fathered with both women.

This trenchant scene is but one of many from The General, director-writer John Boorman’s fine, boisterously funny film about Cahill and his criminal career. Gleefully anti-authoritarian, Cahill relished sticking it to the cops, the Catholic church and even the IRA (which fatally shot him in 1994). Gleeson, an Irish stage star, is mesmerizing as the wily but brutal thief while Voight, his Irish accent spot-on, is a study in determined concentration as the cop who knows time is on his side. (R)

Bottom Line: We enthusiastically salute The General

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