#94: The Untouchables

Do not fuck with us.
“Do not fuck with us.”

Director: Brian De Palma
Year: 1987
Genre: Drama

Based on the real life hunt for Al Capone in the prohibition era of the early 1930’s, The Untouchables is a hard-hitting crime drama disguised as an old-school crime caper. From the opening credits, with its camp-TV serial style titles and Ennio Morricone’s stunning, upbeat score, you’ll know you’re in for a fresh and exhilarating 2 hours.

At a first glance, De Palma’s film comes across as a family friendly cops and robbers caper. Early on in the film we are presented with a sickeningly innocent scene of a little girl’s mundane exchange with the man behind the counter at a cafe. When the girl notices a stranger leave his briefcase behind and exclaims, “Mr, you forgot your briefcase!”, we realise that there’s something deviously different about this film. Oh, that’s right. It’s De Palma! A director who is known for bathing his audience in onscreen violence. The next time we are presented with an oddly innocent scene is when our protagonist, Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is at home with his wife, Catherine (Patricia Clarkson), and the interaction between them is laughably sweet and conservative. Now, it’s apparent that De Palma is taking the “innocent” image of 1930’s cinema and spitting in its face by contrasting Eliot’s squarish personality with Capone’s barbaric nature and loading the film with tragic violence.

De Palma’s “clean on the outside, dirty on the inside” style is what makes The Untouchables stand out from other gang films and the main reason why it’s so damn slick and entertaining. The film’s old-fashioned soppiness keeps your emotional side nice and tender so that when the unmerciful violence intrudes your blood-thirsty side and your ‘Bo-Peep’ side are at war with each other. A more gritty and naturalistic film would have your heart hardened leaving you somewhat cold towards any emotional tipping points.

Kevin Costner is perfectly cast as Chicago’s clean-cut, by-the-book prohibition agent, Eliot Ness, and big, bad Robbie De Niro was born to play the infamous gang-lord, Al Capone. The real star of the film though is Sean Connery in his Academy Award winning role as Jimmy Malone, an Irish-American police officer on the brink of retirement. Connery, you scene stealer. Wait, there’s more! The Untouchables is one hell of a rich film. It’s filled with costumes designed by Georgio Armani, luscious 30’s era production design, a tight screenplay by David Mamet, an amazing score by Ennio Morricone and loads of iconic sequences.

What else do you want? Go stop some bootleggers!

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