The Untouchables (1987)

The Untouchables
Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery, second from left) shares a veteran Chicago cop's
philosophy of hoodlum control with fellow crimefighters (left to right) George
Stone (Andy Garcia), Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner), and Oscar Wallace (Charles
Martin Smith), as they form the redoubtable team The Untouchables.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Stats: 119 minutes, Rated R, Color. Available on Videocassette and Laserdisc. Also see information from this movie's VHS video box, and visit its Internet Movie Database Entry.

Sound clips available: chicago.wav (130K).

Leonard Maltin Review: 4 stars out of 4
High-energy entertainment that packs a wallop: writer David Mamet's update of the well-remembered TV series tells how an earnest but naive federal agent named Eliot Ness learns (the hard way) to deal with both underworld crime and police corruption in Prohibition-era Chicago. Fluidly (and often flamboyantly) filmed, with powerhouse performances by Connery (in his Oscar-winning role), as a seasoned street cop, and De Niro, as a grandiose Al Capone. Climactic shoot-out, with echoes of Potemkin, will have you on the edge of your seat! Photographed by Stephen H. Burum, with a rich music score by Ennio Morricone. Panavision.

Roger Ebert Review: 2 1/2 stars out of 4
There is a moment in The Untouchables when a mobster doesn't want to talk to the law. He's just been captured by federal agents up at the Canadian border, while trying to run some booze down to Chicago for Capone. One of the guy's pals has been shot dead, out on the porch. He doesn't know his partner is dead.

Sean Connery walks outside, grabs the corpse, props it up against a wall, says he's gonna shoot the guy if he doesn't talk - and then puts a bullet into him and drops him. Inside the cabin, the other mobster decides to talk.

It's a moment of quick, brutal improvisation, and it has an energy that's lacking during most of The Untouchables. Here is a movie about an era when law enforcement resembled gang warfare, but the movie seems more interested in the era than in the war. The Untouchables has great costumes, great sets, great cars, great guns, great locations, and a few shots that absolutely capture the Prohibition Era. But it does not have a great script, great performances, or great direction.

The script is by David Mamet, the playwright, but it could have been by anybody. It doesn't have the Mamet touch, the conversational rhythms that carry a meaning beyond words. It also lacks any particular point of view about the material, and, in fact, lacks the dynamic tension of many gangster movies written by less talented writers. Everything seems cut and dried, twice-told, preordained.

The performances are another disappointment. The star of the movie is Kevin Costner, as Eliot Ness, the straight-arrow federal agent who vows a personal struggle against the Capone mob. Costner is fine for the role, but it's a thankless one, giving him little to do other than act grim and incorrigible. The script doesn't give him, and he doesn't provide, any of the little twists and turns of character that might have made Ness into an individual.

But the big disappointment is Robert De Niro's Al Capone. All of the movie's Capone segments seem cut off from the rest of the story; they're like regal set pieces, dropped in from time to time. De Niro comes on screen with great dramatic and musical flourish, strikes an attitude, says a line, and that's basically the whole idea. There isn't a glimmer of a notion of what made this man tick, this Al Capone who was such an organizational genius that he founded an industry and became a millionaire while he was still a young man.

The best performance in the movie is by Sean Connery, as a Scottish-American cop who signs on as Ness's right-hand man and seems, inexplicably, to know everything about the mob and its liquor business. Connery brings a human element to his character; he seems to have had an existence apart from the legend of the Untouchables, and when he's onscreen we can believe, briefly, that the 1920s were inhabited by people, not caricatures.

What's good about the movie is the physical production itself. There's a shot of the canyon of LaSalle Street, all decked out with 1920s cars and extras, that's sensational. And a lot of other nice touches, like Capone's hotel headquarters, or the courtroom where his trial is held. But even the good use of sets and locations is undermined by Brian De Palma's curiously lead-footed direction - curious, because he is usually the most nimble and energetic of directors.

Look, for example, at an early scene where Ness and his men are staking out a gang headquarters, and Ness spots a nosy photographer snooping around. The editing is so clumsy we can't understand why the mob doesn't see Ness and the photographer. (And the photographer himself stays around for the whole picture as an implausible distraction, who is somehow always able to turn up whenever he's needed.)

The 1920s were already a legend by the 1930s, when Warner Brothers turned them into the gangster movie industry. Directors have been struggling ever since to invest them with life, and free them from cliches. The best film about the era remains the uncut original version of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America. De Palma's The Untouchables, like the TV series that inspired it, depends more on cliches than on artistic invention.

Pauline Kael Review
Set in Chicago circa 1930 - Al Capone's capital of crime--this Brian De Palma movie, from a script by David Mamet, is like an attempt to visualize the public's collective dream of Chicago gangsters. Our movie-fed imagination of the past is enlarged and given a new vividness. De Palma is a showman here. Everything is neatly done in broad strokes, and the slight unbelievability of it all makes it more enjoyable. Robert De Niro's Capone is a plump peacock with receding hair and a fat cigar in his mouth. The four men who fight to restore the honor of a corrupted society - the four who can't be bribed, the Untouchables - are the fresh-faced young Special Agent Eliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner; a smart, ornery veteran cop, played (magnificently) by Sean Connery; a rookie-cop sharpshooter (Andy Garcia); and a small, middle-aged accountant (Charles Martin Smith). It's not a great movie; it's too banal, too morally comfortable - the script is too obvious. But it's a great audience movie - a wonderful potboiler. It's a rouser. The architectural remnants of the era (including solid traces of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright) have been refurbished to provide a swaggering showcase for the legend. Cinematography by Stephen H. Burum; music by Ennio Morricone. (Every now and then you may wonder what Morricone's throbbing disco-synthesizer beat is doing in this period.) With Jack Kehoe, Billy Drago, and Richard Bradford. Paramount.

For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Academy Awards
Supporting Actor 1987: Sean Connery
Nominated for Art Direction 1987: Patrizia von Brandenstein - Art Direction, Hal Gausman - Set Decoration
Nominated for Costume Design 1987: Marilyn Vance-Straker
Nominated for Music - Original Score 1987: Ennio Morricone

Cast List
Kevin CostnerEliot Ness
Sean ConneryJames Malone
Charles Martin SmithOscar Wallace
Andy GarciaGeorge Stone
Robert De NiroAl Capone
Richard BradfordMike
Jack KehoeWalter Payne
Brad SullivanGeorge
Billy DragoFrank Nitti
Patricia ClarksonCatherine Ness
Vito D'AmbrosioBow Tie Driver
Steve GoldsteinScoop
Peter AylwardLt. Alderson
Don HarveyPreseuski
Robert SwanMountie Captain
John WalshBartender
Del CloseAlderman
Colleen BadeMrs. Blackmer
Greg NoonanRangemaster
Sean GrennanCop Cousin
Vince Viverito Sr.Italian Waiter
Kevin Michael DoyleWilliamson
Mike BacarellaOvercoat Hood
Michael ByrneNess's Clerk
Kaitlin MontgomeryNess's Daughter
Aditra KohlBlackmer Girl
Charles Keller Watson, Larry Branderburg, Chelcie Ross, Tim GambleReporters
Sam Smiley, Patrick BillingsleyBailiffs
John BracciFat Man
Jennifer AnglimWoman in Elevator
Eddie MinasianButler
Tony MockusJudge
Will ZahrnDefense Attorney
Louis LancilotiBarber
Vince Viverito, Valentino Cimo, Joe Greco, Clem Caserta, Bob Martana, Joseph Scianablo, George SpataroBodyguards
Melody RaeUnion Station Woman
Robert MirandaGunned Head
James GuthriePagliacci
Basil RealeHotel Clerk
Production Credits
ProducerArt Linson
DirectorBrian De Palma
ScreenwriterDavid Mamet
EditorJerry Greenberg, Bill Pankow
CinematographerStephen H. Burum
ComposerEnnio Morricone
Art DesignerWilliam Elliott
Set DesignersE. C. Chen, Steven Sardanis, Gil Clayton, Nicholas Laborczy
StuntsGary Hymes
CostumesMarilyn Vance

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