In the opening scene of this film written and directed by John Boorman, a notorious Irish crime lord, Martin Cahill (Brendan Gleeson), is assassinated on August 18, 1994, by an IRA gunman outside his suburban home in Dublin, Ireland. The rest of the drama recalls the brash exploits of this cocky wheeler-dealer who has nothing but contempt for the law and the radicalism of the IRA.

After growing up as a child thief and adult cat burglar, Cahill settles down in a menage a trois with his wife (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and her sister Tina (Angeline Ball). The high point in his career comes when he leads a gang robbery of a jeweler. The IRA demands a 50 percent cut but Cahill refuses to give it to them. He then robs an art gallery and sells the paintings to the Ulster Volunteer Force, another act of daring that puts him in deep trouble with his neighbors.

The most interesting aspect of The General is the way Cahill serves as a mirror for the worst that is in others, namely the inspector (Jon Voight) who dogs him, and the IRA. He helps them see the dark side — the side they want to keep hidden from the world.