It's '80s Movie Month! "The Untouchables" Review

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

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It's '80s Movie Month on MRR! "The Untouchables" Review

Rating: R (scenes of graphic violence and offensive language)
Length: 119 minutes
Release Date: June 3, 1987
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Genre: Crime/Drama/History

Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is a cop who doesn't necessarily agree with prohibition, which made alcohol illegal in the United States. However, he does believe in the law, and he has taken a vow to uphold the law. In fact, all the other cops in Chicago vowed to do the same thing when they joined the force, but bootlegger Al Capone (Robert De Niro) has bought quite a few of them off. When Ness is assigned to the Capone case to try and bring down the notorious gangster, he knows he can't rely on most of his fellow cops for help. Instead, he handpicks three men to join his task force, and the group would later become known as the Untouchables.

One of those men he picks is Jim Malone (Sean Connery), an unflappable, hardboiled veteran who gives Ness grief even as he backs him up on the job. The two forge a deep respect for each other, especially because Malone thinks quickly on his feet and always gets the job done. This is just the type of person Ness needs because Capone is a squirrely fellow who knows how to take care of business, even if that means resorting to murder. In fact, Capone seems to get a gleeful, almost boyish satisfaction out of killing people, and he isn't afraid to do the killing himself when the situation warrants it.

In order to stop a man who is willing to get dirty, the Untouchables must be willing to get dirty themselves. This puts them in harm's way often, which is why sharpshooter George Stone (Andy Garcia) is chosen for the team. The final member, Agent Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith), seems out of place because he is an accountant, but he ends up finding evidence of tax evasion that may just be what Ness needs to arrest Capone. The problem is getting a chance to slap the cuffs on him, which is much easier said than done. There is more than one bloody battle and more than one life lost before the Untouchables finally get to put the ultimate untouchable gangster behind bars.

Before "The Untouchables" was released, director Brian De Palma had been known as an Alfred Hitchcock-like director who freely admitted that he wanted to be the next version of the famed director. This film marked a huge departure for him and, as a consequence, is arguably one of his greatest triumphs. Though it does have some of the usual De Palma thematic elements to it, the film also has a lot of action scenes and is more of a thriller than a straight drama. It would be the first of what would eventually be several thrillers that had law enforcement themes such as that of "Mission: Impossible," which is one of his most financially successful films. In fact, it could be argued that De Palma at this point is better known for these crime dramas and thrillers than he is for what he originally staked his career on, which was films such as "Carrie" and "Sisters." Those films were visually stunning and revealed just as much of their narrative through those visuals as they did through the actual script or dialogue.

The performances are strong across the board, but the film really belongs to Connery, and he has the Oscar to prove it. Surely, Ness is the main character and Costner does a great job in the role, but it is Connery as Malone who steals the picture from his very first scene. Malone is one of those characters who has a one-liner for everything, even if that one-liner is more poignant than funny. He also is quick with the anecdotes and to prop a guy up if he needs it. In a lesser script and with a lesser actor, these character traits could seem forced or even silly; with Connery, however, they seem natural and are a great addition to the film.

De Palma and his crew were careful to stay faithful to the look of the era in which the film is set. The great attention to detail makes the film that much more believable, even though the film has quite a few embellishments compared to the real story of Al Capone. More than a few liberties were taken in regard to the facts of the real-life gangster, but that can be excused because "The Untouchables" is a winning film that tells a story that is nearly a century old yet feels completely fresh and exciting to watch. This isn't an easy thing to pull off, which is why it is still one of the better gangster dramas of all time more than two decades after its initial release.

Rating: 4 out of 5