The Untouchables

"Excellent"

The Untouchables Review


Why would anybody still want to watch a movie as deeply flawed as The Untouchables? Certainly it's not for historical accuracy: The real Federal Agent Elliot Ness was perfectly happy to dun mob kingpin Al Capone on tax evasion and avoid the intense gunplay that the movie depicts. It's not De Palma: Scarface is his better mob picture, and Blow Out has more drama. And Lord knows it's not the performances: Kevin Costner earned much of his rep as a wet blanket here, and Sean Connery's stubborn refusal to change his accent for his role is almost comic. Never has an Irish cop sounded so Scottish, though Connery did get the last laugh - he took home a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Jim Malone.

Why watch? Because despite its flaws, The Untouchables is a magnificent movie about political clout -- a worthy subject that Hollywood's rarely bothered to tackle and usually gets wrong. Clout isn't bribing a police chief with a briefcase full of hundred-dollar bills; it's making sure the police chief's son gets a cushy job at your concrete firm, thereby ensuring you're the low bidder on sidewalk contracts. Clout isn't hiring hit men to off your worst enemy and toss him in a ditch; it's buying drinks for a high school buddy who works at the county assessor's office who just happens to find so many structural problems with your enemy's grocery store that he's forced to close shop and leave town. Those aren't events in The Untouchables, but they echo the kind of emotional noise that David Mamet's script makes - it's a revenge fantasy for any person who wondered why they had to suck up to their alderman or local ward heeler just to get their trash picked up on time. Clout isn't muscle - it's clever muscle. And The Untouchables understands that cleverness.

Of course it's set in '30s Chicago - that's where clout was practically invented. Capone (Robert De Niro) is cooly running the liquor interests in what is supposed to be a dry, Prohibition-era burg, when Agent Ness (Costner) is hired to shake up things and nail Capone. Ness' milquetoast, by-the-book approach to policework gets him precisely nowhere at first - Capone has so much goodwill with the press and enough eyes and ears in the police department that he anticipates Ness' every move. Enter Malone, an aging beat cop who's sympathetic to Ness' cause. When Ness asks him how to nail Capone, Malone responds with one of the movie's great lines: "You wanna know how you do it? Here's how. They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way, and that's how you get Capone."

So informed, Ness starts assembling his team, which includes police cadet Giuseppe Petri (a fine, understated Andy Garcia) and wimpy government accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith). De Palma, always brilliant with violence, escalates the bloodshed as the new team of "untouchables" starts to enjoy some success; in the only scene where De Niro really gets to show off, he lectures his cronies about loyalty as he carries a baseball bat before whacking the weak link in his Outfit but good.

But a funny thing happens in the midst of the struggle between the Feds and the Outfit: Ness and his crew start acting just as immorally as Capone and his men do. "They pull a knife, you pull a gun" - how exactly does that make you the good guy? Are the Untouchables freedom fighters or loose cannons? Mamet and De Palma don't give a damn. What matters is the battle itself, and the tail end of the film has some wonderfully constructed sequences of violence. The slow-motion ballet of gunplay at the steps of Chicago's Union Station is serious stuff, but it comically integrates a baby carriage bouncing down between the gunmen, an absurd quote of Potemkin's "Odessa steps" sequence. And the courtroom scenes in the film's last act isn't nearly as interesting as the climactic battle between Ness and Capone lackey Frank Nitti (played with creepy brilliance by Billy Drago) above the courthouse. Justice doesn't stand a chance against clever muscle.

Alas, there's a pat ending where the good guys win, but the film doesn't make much of it. Indeed, the last lines of the movie suggest that Mamet's having a laugh at the whole good-evil idea anyhow. When Ness is told that Prohibition - the law he'd fought and killed on behalf of - is going to be repealed, he simply smirks and says, "I think I'll have a drink." That, too, is the Chicago way.

The new collector's edition DVD includes a handful of new and classic behind-the-scenes featurettes.



The Untouchables

Facts and Figures

Run time: 119 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 3rd June 1987

Box Office Worldwide: $76.3M

Budget: $25M

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Production compaines: Paramount Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 44 Rotten: 11

IMDB: 8.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Eliot Ness, as Jim Malone, as Al Capone, as Agent George Stone/Giuseppe Petri, as Agent Oscar Wallace, as Police Chief Mike Dorsett, as Walter Payne, as George, Billy Drago as Frank Nitti, as Catherine Ness, Vito D'Ambrosio as Bowtie Driver, Steven Goldstein as Scoop, Peter Aylward as Lt. Anderson, as Officer Preseuski

Also starring: ,

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Imperium Movie Review

Imperium Movie Review

First-time filmmaker Daniel Ragussis takes an unusual approach to this thriller. Since it's based on...

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

Like a 10-years-later follow-up to 28 Days Later, this small British thriller takes a refreshingly...

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

Director Antoine Fuqua brings his usual fascination with violence to this remake of the iconic...

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

As it's been 12 years since the last Bridget Jones movie, expectations aren't too high...

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

A-list director Ron Howard worked with the surviving Beatles to assemble this engaging documentary, which...

Blair Witch Movie Review

Blair Witch Movie Review

It's been 17 years since The Blair Witch Project shook up the cinema and created...

Anthropoid Movie Review

Anthropoid Movie Review

Outside the Czech Republic, few people know about Operation Anthropoid, a spy mission in 1943...

Advertisement
Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

From Laika (The Boxtrolls), this is one of the most beautiful, sophisticated animated films in...

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

An offbeat comedy-drama with a timely kick, this charming family road trip takes on some...

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan delivers another fiercely intelligent, engaging story that maintains high suspense while...

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

With heavy overtones of Hitchcockian mystery and intrigue, this stylish thriller is the enjoyably melodramatic...

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

The 1989 Muay Thai action movie Kickboxer starred a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, who pops...

Julieta Movie Review

Julieta Movie Review

Iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is back with another powerfully complex female-centred drama, along the...

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

An astute satire of the pop music business, this raucous mock-documentary is consistently hilarious from...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.