By: Oberst Von Berauscht (A Toast) -
Desperate to enforce the policies of prohibition, the U.S. Treasury assigned Elliott Ness to create an anti-liquor task force in Chicago, Illinois. At the time (the 1920s) this Midwestern city was a violent place where corruption was rampant. Gangster Al Capone had all but taken over, having bought off most of the politicians. The team Ness assembled was legendarily incorruptible; through force of will, and good detective work, they managed to bring Capone and his henchmen down.
Of course, you could read all that in a history book and get the boring true story, or you can watch Brian DePalma’s ass-kicking version, which eschews historical fact in favor of everything that made cinema of the 1980’s hardcore.
In spite of commercial success of films such as Carrie and Scarface, DePalma was still a very niche filmmaker. Critics hadn’t fully embraced his unique visual style and propensity for over the top violence. Audiences hadn’t yet fully embraced Al Pacino’s Cuban accent.
It would take another 10 years, and 10,000,000 “gangsta” rap CDs to overcome that obstacle
Actor Kevin Costner’s fame was on the rise, but Sean Connery was fresh out of a decade’s worth of underperforming box office. There was no reason to believe that this film would be successful. It was with this film however that Brian DePalma finally managed to negotiate his eccentricities with the Hollywood system. The story is almost comically simplistic, with great leaps of logic that wouldn’t be out of place in an Expendables movie (Hmm, Expendables, Untouchables…). Ultimately what grounds the film are the three key performances. As Elliott Ness, Kevin Costner delivers a solid emotional performance as a man in over his head, struggling to learn from his mistakes. Sean Connery as Jim Malone earned his only Oscar for Best Actor, as a cantankerous, but wise policeman who shows Ness the ropes. Jim Malone is the Obi Wan to Ness’s Skywalker.
With slightly more awesomeness
The third, and perhaps most crucial performance is Robert DeNiro as Al Capone. Some critics argue that Capone isn’t a three-dimensional character, and I’d argue that wouldn’t have fit in with the sort of film DePalma was making. The Untouchables is a salute to pulp cinema, and demanded a pulp villain. DeNiro plays Capone as a sadistic crime boss whose self-involved malevolence made him the king of the trash heap that was 1920’s Chicago.
DePalma saved the movie from feeling simply like low brow entertainment by injecting his flair for visuals and high suspense. In a key scene of the film, the camera serves as a first-person view of an assassin stalking a major character. DePalma had used this in many films before, but almost exclusively in horror, or thrillers. The action scenes get the DePalma treatment too, with a climactic gunfight modeled after Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. The movie Gangster Squad recently attempted (with limited success) to recapture the spirit of The Untouchables. There is only room in the world for one of these movies.
Pulp B-Movie on a Big-Budget scale, and one of the best.
Take a Drink: when Al Capone shouts
Take a Drink: when Sean Connery lectures
Do a Shot: for each onscreen death. (Double for a protagonist)