The Untouchables (1987)
Critic Consensus: Slick on the surface but loaded with artful touches, Brian DePalma's classical gangster thriller is a sharp look at period Chicago crime, featuring excellent performances from a top-notch cast.
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Critic Reviews for The Untouchables
A deeply satisfying and entertaining Prohibition gang-buster directed with a Tommy gun's rat-tat-tat.
The Untouchables could be the breakthrough movie for Kevin Costner, a folksy, Gary Cooperish actor who holds center stage as Eliot Ness.
Where, under his stainless-steel incorruptibility, was Ness' gnawing flaw? To Mamet and De Palma, goodness and dullness seem inseparable.
It's an action film without much personality or drive and without enough imaginative detail to make the action gripping or meaningful.
It goes to that place that all films aspiring to greatness must attain: the country of myth, where all the figures must be larger and more vivid than life.
Audience Reviews for The Untouchables
Hollywood has always loved outlaws, from Billy the Kid to Bonnie and Clyde, and the outlaws that it has most consistently loved are gangsters. Gangsters tick all the boxes for classic Hollywood antagonists: they're stylish, dangerous, well-spoken, they combine history and nostalgia for the 'good old days' in the old country with weapons and schemes that are quintessentially modern. Quentin Tarantino was right when he called gangster films "parodies of the American dream": they hold up a mirror to American society and its ideals, letting it either question its very foundations or revel in its dark underbelly. It's ironic, therefore, that despite decades of trying, Hollywood has never really done justice to Al Capone. Numerous directors have tried, including trash maestro Roger Corman, but Capone has always worked best as an incidental character in other people's stories. The Untouchables may enjoy a better reputation that Corman's work, thanks in part to Sean Connery's preposterous Oscar win. But it's still an immensely flawed beast which is watchable and empty in equal measure. Part of the reason for the lack of a definitive on-screen Capone may because he has become the cliché of the Hollywood gangster. When Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat were creating Sherlock, they deliberately steered away from making their version of Moriarty identical to those in the original stories; they reasoned that, since he was the first supervillain, to whom every subsequent supervillain owes a debt, he had become the cliché and wouldn't scare audiences as he originally had done. Capone, the argument goes, has become a caricature, a parody of what American gangsterism means, so that any attempt to present him seriously could be unintentionally risible. If we buy this line of reasoning, one of the greatest failings of The Untouchables is that it fails to deal with this problem. Casting Robert de Niro may have seemed like a no-brainer, given his brilliance in The Godfather Part II as the younger Don Corleone. But the part came at a time when de Niro was tired of playing gangsters, and had sought to diversify his portfolio through roles in Brazil and The Mission. What we get feels like a bizarre self-parody of de Niro's past roles, complete with his trademark repetition of lines - the 'I wan' 'im dead!" rant after the border raid stands in for the famous "are you talkin' to me?" speech in Taxi Driver. De Niro's creative decisions aside, this is also partially down to David Mamet's screenplay, which is muddled and conflicted. The film cannot decide whether it wants to be a style-over-substance, silly gangster film, with all the stock characters and plenty of shoot-outs, or a serious drama about having to go above and beyond the law to bring someone to justice. De Niro is indulged during his scenes and comes across as more comical than threatening, with the score telegraphing to the audience how to feel in the baseball bat scene. When he's not on screen, Mamet tries to make things more macho, but here he is undone by another bad performance: Kevin Costner. While de Niro is coasting (and Connery is largely playing himself), Costner is the dictionary definition of trying too hard. His critics like to assume that he became overly serious as a result of the Oscar success of Dances with Wolves, but the truth is that he's always been a wooden and limited actor. His performance as Eliot Ness is drab and dreary, having neither the presence nor the moral ambiguity of, say, Gene Hackman in The French Connection, which is what the role calls for. He spends the whole film with one facial expression (somewhere between bored and "but my Dad thinks I'm good"), and his line readings are flat and unconvincing. In the words of Sheila Benson, writing in The Los Angeles Times, "to Mamet and De Palma, goodness and dullness seem inseparable." Admittedly, however, not all of The Untouchables' failings can be pinned on Mamet, Costner or de Niro. Some of the blame must lie with Brian De Palma, whose work from Scarface onwards is an emphatic case of style over substance. Where Martin Scorsese or William Friedkin would have properly marshalled their actors, building an intensity with the characters first and foremost, De Palma always seems more concerned with constructing incredibly stylish death scenes or paying homage to his favourite directors. Tipping one's hat to Battleship Potemkin does not in itself make the train station showdown exciting, and the use of slow-motion is less effective at building tension than the quiet minutes leading up to it. Throughout his career, De Palma has always been fascinated by death; he likes putting his characters through the mill, as his idol Alfred Hitchcock did before him, and staging beautiful demises for them complete with razor blades, guns and plenty of stage blood. The train station offers a lot in this regard, with carefully positioned squibs, broken glass and blood practically oozing from henchman's mouths. But the ne plus ultra of this is the gunning down of Malone, which is every bit as drawn out and ridiculous as Alan Rickman's pantomime death scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves four years later. We start with a protracted nod to Hallowe'en in the use of first-person steadicam, and end with one of the most contrived farewells of two characters in Hollywood history; no man, riddled with that many machine gun bullets, could have survived that long, let alone been in a position to relay such a vital detail. In amongst all this indulgence and over-abundance of style, there are a number of qualities which make The Untouchables watchable. The first and biggest of these is the historical quirk of how Capone was caught, through tax evasion. The film does lose focus from time to time, particularly in the scenes with a high body count, but we do keep coming back to the theme of how the smallest error or indiscretion can lead to a person's downfall - something that's as true of Capone as it is of the police officers who allowed Frank Nitti to infiltrate their ranks. The most interesting characters in The Untouchables are the minor players on both sides of the divide. Charles Martin Smith (who was very good in Starman) deftly conveys someone who is out of his depth but driven by the need to do good, turning his own skills to the advantage of the team. Andy Garcia's character is a little underwritten, but he takes what chances he can to portray a hot-head trying to turn his life around - ample preparation for his later role in The Godfather Part III. And Billy Drago, as a heavily fictionalised Frank Nitti, is one of the coolest, most underrated villains of the 1980s. Not only does he look tremendous, but his icy demeanour and playful sense of humour make his evildoing for Capone resonate all the more (his death, on the other hand, is riddled with disappointing wire work). The Untouchables is a watchable but ultimately empty experience which has neither the substance nor the discipline of De Palma at his best. Lumbered by a problematic script and unintentionally silly performances by its main leads, it provides just enough drama to keep an audience interested while never getting to grips with its subject matter in a sufficiently deep manner. There are many Oscar-winning films which are far, far worse, but there's very little about this film which is truly untouchable.
Though there are certain historical liberties taken with the story of the Untouchables taking down Al Capone, this film is completely forgiven. It's a historical period piece, an action film, and a gangster crime film all rolled up into one. Whether or not Al Capone was justified in breaking the Volstead Act and bringing alcohol into the Chicago streets is history's burden, but the violence exacted upon his enemies was the same as a warlord, and for that the audience wants to see him go down. Seeing Eliot Ness (Costner) take Capone (De Niro) down was a sweet victory, in a film fraught with the deaths of many. The crusade that the Untouchables took on, risking their own lives to their detriment, was personal and heroic, and this film shows that. Not only that but every one of them is defined as an action hero, though some of them may be accountants, other beat cops. Every scene is artfully done, whether they're at the battle on the bridge, or the nod to "Battleship Potemkin" at the train station, or the rooftop chase, it's a sweetly crafted ode to these heroes, and the lives that they lived and lost. It's a really cool movie, and for a period piece, that's pretty difficult to pull off.
Written by David Mamet and directed by Brian De Palma, this is a flashy retelling of Eliot Ness and his quest to bring down Al Capone on the mean streets of Prohibition era Chicago. I used to be quite fond of this film, but time, re viewings, and some other factors have lead me to realize that this film isn't quite the gem I once thought it was. There are liberties with the history, and I expected that, but not only that, there's really not a whole lot of character development or that strong of a story here. Yeah, the pacing's tight, but I feel like things are perhaps a bit too rushed, and more time could be spent building the story instead of just jumping right in from event to event. The period details are quite good though, and the film nails the era fine. The historical errors just come with character, development, and the general plot/story. Ennio Morricone's music, while good (save for a track or two), is misused, with the cues showing up at inappropriate times, making for a jarring effect. The film feels really uneven, especially with the music, but in general too. It's like they were unsure what kind of tone they were shooting for. Okay, now for more praise. This film is stylish, and quite entertaining. There's a strong cast, and the performances are pretty decent. I don't know if Connery necessarily deserved the Oscar he got for this, but he is a joy to watch, even if I don't quite buy him as a veteran beat cop. Being a De Palma film, there's some great cinematography and camera work, complete with a few nice long take/tracking shots. Even though the film is kinda uneven, there are some quite suspenseful scenes throughout, with perhaps the highlight being the climax at the train station which features a loving tribute to the "Odessa steps" sequence from Battleship Potemkin. All in all, this film isn't nearly as good as people remember it to be. It's quite flawed, yet somehow I can't bring myself to rate it any lower, despite my gripes with it. Perhaps that's a bit hypocritical, but hell, even the cops took drinks while enforcing Prohibition, so yeah, nobody's perfect. In any case, I still recommend this, even though I knew it could have been a lot better, and I know what could have been done to get it that way.
The Untouchables Quotes
|Frank Nitti:||Your friend screamed like a irish pig (Ness throws him of the roof)|
|Frank Nitti:||Your friend screamed like a Irish pig.|
|Eliot Ness:||Did he sound anything like that|
|Eliot Ness:||Did he sound anything like that?|
|Jim Malone:||Federal agents this is a raid|
|Jim Malone:||Federal agents! This is a raid!|
|Oscar Wallace:||This man could finger Al Capone this man could put Capone behind bars|
|Oscar Wallace:||This man could finger Al Capone. This man could put Capone behind bars.|
|Eliot Ness:||Never stop fighting till the fight is done|
|Eliot Ness:||Never stop fighting till the fight is done.|
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