This week I got to rewatch and review Brian De Palma’s, The Untouchables. If you haven’t heard about it, then you aren’t the film buff you claim to be. To sum it up, it’s a universally loved and celebrated gangster film about the treasury agents who took down the Chicago crime family in the 1930s. Packed with critically acclaimed performances, a solid script by David Mamet and an unforgettable score by Ennio Morricone, The Untouchables is known as one Brian De Palma’s best films and, on a grander scale, “gangster” films of all time.
That is really saying something. Being released in the times of which gangster films were very hot. Post Godfather one and two, with films like GoodFellas released just three years after its 1987 release.
This film felt right to review. I think it goes perfectly in line and meshes well with the films I’ve done up to this point. I look back and see a notable influence and focus on certain genre(s). The “gangster” or “crime” genre is something that I obviously love. I also put a huge emphasis on screenwriter and director, especially recently, as I’ve gotten to choose the films I review. The Untouchables undoubtedly follows suit, like most of the others.
I guess I’m on the Kevin Costner train now as well after reviewing JFK a couple weeks ago. He plays Elliot Ness in this film. Ness was the real life treasury agent who took down Al Capone. He’s the voice of reason and leads a criminal chase, as Costner seems to do often as an actor. It’s very easy to relate and root for his cause. It’s a no brainer… ending Capone’s reign is all he wants. At the time of Prohibition, Capone was maintaining his illegal alcohol distribution by any means necessary.
There’s a slice of humanity in Ness that is very important to note. He struggles with the reality and severity of what he must do. He wants to stop the violence, but to do that, requires more violence. It’s not a job for the weak, scared or unprepared. Unfortunately, that’s how you take down a kingpin like Capone.
Malone, played by Sean Connery, an experienced and hardened beat cop, knows this to be true. You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. And you bet there’s going to be multiple showdowns. Which is great for cinema when you can pull it off. The Untouchables is filled with action.
And I don’t mean to gloss over Sean Connery’s performance; he won an Oscar for it. He fills the role perfectly. An Irish American cop that lives by his own code. He’s a great part of the film but not nearly my favorite part.
Things get even better when you remember Robert De Niro plays Al Capone. I’ve said it before; he’s the best character actor of all time, hands down. I could never tell you who Al Capone truly was and how he acted, (2020’s ‘Capone’ doesn’t necessarily help me out) but knowing that the character is in the hands of De Niro, I have no trouble buying in. A show off, loud mouthed crime boss; Capone is an angry, violent and powerful man. You understand that just minutes into the film. We’re introduced in a very regal way. “It is the time of Al Capone”. I like to believe that first frame, overhead and simple zoom onto Capone getting his face shaved really sets the tone. You get the gist of his character right off the bat. Give the film a few more minutes and Capone is using that bat… on someone’s head.
Getting larger to play this role, De Niro has been famed for putting on and losing weight to fill his characters shoes. This one was no different. Through some research, I found his diet was strictly Italian, a lot of pasta and he even lived in Italy momentarily a few months before filming started. Talk about dedication, (on a vacation to Italy) and it shines through as De Niro’s Capone is without a doubt the most iconic piece to come out of this film. At least for me.
The film looks amazing and sounds great. It’s very in your face and demands the viewer’s attention. That being said, and I say this with the utmost respect and acknowledgment for the power, praise and accolades that this film has garnered; there are moments within the film that I don’t feel age gracefully. You can one hundred percent catch certain dated aspects of the film especially in action sequences. The very same action sequences that were praised so much when the film first released.
But once you get past the fact that this film is simply a product of it’s time, you can still appreciate it for what it is. De Palma is without a doubt a director who can bring the juice. But sometimes it can be too much juice and not land perfectly. It’s an absolute powerhouse, but I hope younger crowds will eventually be able to stick behind it. It lacks certain timeless qualities that exist in other gangster films. If the Untouchables made me feel the way that GoodFellas made me feel while watching, I’d consider overlooking some of the clunky and awkward sequences. But for now it still reigns supreme in the top tier for most people.
The film gives you a look into what 1930s Chicago was like, what kind of people were around and running the city. You most definitely get a sense of how things got done, specifically in law enforcement. You can tell how far we’ve come as a society when you see officers just up and join special treasury agent operations off the beat. It might be me and my lack of knowledge, but that feels like something that wouldn’t happen now a days. Maybe it’s all for the dramatics. I’m not too sure.
Verdict 4 out of 5
De Palma delivers here but I can’t help but disagree with certain reports that this is De Palma’s best film. Maybe his most rounded. It’s tamer than other titles of his… I’m sorry but Scarface takes the cake for me. It’s just too much of a performance out of Pacino not to hold higher. To be quite honest, I’d even rank the first Mission Impossible over this film as well just because of what it meant to me as a kid. That all being said, it’s still a great film but not invincible to age and slight mishaps that didn’t seem important enough to cut out.