Brian DePalma directed the very loose cinematic adaptation of Eliot Ness’ squad of treasury agents during the 1930s prohibition era with “The Untouchables,” based on the famed TV show starring Robert Stack. It’s a gorgeous picture with incredible set designs, props, and Georgio Armani costume wear. It’s also bloody as hell.
Kevin Costner solidified his leading man status as the righteous Eliot Ness who swears by the law he promises to uphold, while making efforts to topple Al Capone’s (a convincing looking Robert DeNiro) massive Chicago empire that thrives on the buy and sell of illegal alcohol. Capone controls the city on all levels from government officials down to the police force. His power is unlimited, but he has not filed his tax returns in four years. It’s crazy, but that just might bring him down.
Ness teams up with veteran beat cop Jimmy Malone played by Sean Connery, in one of the most celebrated and winning roles the Academy Awards ever bestowed. Malone knows where the underground liquor operations are located. He knows who accepts the bribes and kickbacks too. The question is how involved does he want to get. He’s the grizzled Irish mentor for Ness, and his timing is perfect for David Mamet’s script.
Memorable additions to the team also include a young and tough Andy Garcia and nerdy Charles Martin Smith as the IRS agent happy to pick up a shotgun for the cause.
DePalma’s film carries the epic look. There’s much splendor in the art direction of the film. It’s a glamorous piece of film, but it’s also just a movie.
Mamet’s script takes lots of liberties against the actual occurrences that came through historically. I do not recall hearing that The Untouchables ever took down a deal while riding horseback alongside the Canadian Mounties, for example. A villainous henchman for Capone is Frank Nitti (a happily slimy Billy Drago), always dressed in bad guy white and putting on the bad guy charm. His demise in the film never happened and most certainly not so adventurous or violently, but DePalma and Mamet clearly don’t care. This is lean entertainment for action sequences set in a gorgeous gangster period. “The Untouchables” is a slick looking gangster flick and nothing more.
A real star of the film is the Oscar nominated score of the film from The Maestro, himself, Ennio Morricone. His opening piece of drum beats with quick piano keys during the credits will get your pulse going. He also has great horn sections that capture the four heroes in tight shots of shining cinematography from Stephen H Burum. For me personally, this is my favorite soundtrack of Morricone’s massive career.
Costner is well cast. He has the handsome hero look to him. Garcia became a well known and handsome tough guy. Smith did not move on to more celebrated material beyond this. He was remembered comedically here, just as he was in “American Graffiti.” He also directed since this film. As a team though, Costner, Garcia, Smith and Connery have wonderful chemistry together.
DeNiro actually took a step back from the spotlight here. His Al Capone is not so much a character as he is an every so often antagonizing appearance with a couple of well paced lines from Mamet’s famed dialogue. He’s got a memorable moment with a baseball monologue that convinces you of Capone’s strong arm, but his villain does not get too personal with the hero.
“The Untouchables” holds a special place in my heart. It was the last film I saw before my life changing move from New Jersey to Florida in 1987. Because the move was hard on me from a teenager’s perspective, I found great escape with this film as I memorized the lines of the enormously colorful characters along with getting absorbed with the violence and emotional variety of tones in the score. Having watched the movie many times since it was released, it’s become a kind of therapeutic experience for me. I take in the gorgeous craftsmanship of the film, the humor and the surprise moments many of the beloved characters face.
“The Untouchables” is not a perfect film due to its admitted inaccuracies, but it’s a favorite and very personal piece for me. I still love the film, all these years later.