Released in 1987, Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables has over-time grown to be considered a gangster classic. The Untouchables may not be in the same league as The Godfather or Goodfellas, but through huge action sequences and a script that firmly has its tongue-in-cheek, the film has managed to successfully set itself apart from the genre norm and become adored because of it.
The Untouchables is based on the autobiographical account of Eliot Ness’ efforts to stop Al Capone during the prohibition period. Ness (Kevin Costner) is a treasury officer and has spent a long time trying to stop the notorious gangster Al Capone. However, Ness’ efforts are continuously rebuffed due to the corrupt officials he works alongside. Ness has finally had enough and, together with his friend Jim Malone (Sean Connery), he recruits a rag-tag team of honourable police officers to help him to destroy Capone’s empire. The crew rampage through the streets of Chicago, taking down Capone’s operations one by one in hope they’ll get their shot at the top dog.
Unlike The Godfather, The Untouchables doesn’t require you to have your brain turned on. De Palma’s film is an action romp, moving at breakneck speed the film moves from one visually spectacular sequence to another. It is the perfect blokes movie, with tough talking cops and gangsters running around Chicago shooting tommy guns. De Palma directing in this fashion is a highlight. He said it was great to be able to make a movie from somebody else’s script and it really shows. De Palma is clearly just directing for the fun of it and it allows him to do a lot of interesting things with the camera. Each action sequence has a different hook that makes it unique, as such the film is constantly refreshing.
David Mamet’s writing is equally as brilliant. Mamet’s script has mixed the cheeky dialogue and fast-paced structure of film noir with the explosive and unpredictable nature of the gangster genre. The result may not work for all, and it is clear it didn’t work for some of the cast members, but as a fan of both genres it made the film a blast to sit through.
The cast is a mixed bag. Sean Connery is amazing to watch as he chews through dialogue and scenes like he has never done so before. Say what you will about Connery’s acting and accent, but this is his ultimate role and the film would be nothing without him. Robert De Niro doesn’t get a lot to do and he sadly never quite captures Al Capone as well as one would imagine. His Capone feels more like a caricature than a villain. Kevin Costner though proves to be the biggest disappointment. Costner’s Ness has a lot of big moments and dialogue, but never delivers. If I have one knock on Costner it is that he has no comedic timing and it shows here, as Mamet has given the character some classic one-liners. He does an ok job, however he should have followed Connery’s lead.
The Untouchables features an amazing performance from Sean Connery, an insanely quotable script and some impressive direction from De Palma. This kind of fun but serious film is hard to pull off (just look at Gangster Squad) and all involved should be commended for their efforts. Gangster purists may find something here to complain about, but for those looking for a fast-paced action film you can’t go past this.