“Isn’t that just like a wop. Brings a knife to a gun fight.” – Malone
Big, rouble-rousing, even unashamedly corny. The Untouchables (1987) is broad and showy, known most for its expensive retro-design of Prohibition Chicago. Cops and robbers fight dirty, the bootleggers execute dissenters and blow-up businesses, but otherwise – this is an immaculately spick and span city, a kind of vogue metropolitan city. Kevin Costner is the straight-arrow Eliot Ness; Sean Connery (in a deserved Oscar-winning role) is an Irish-American cop with wiseacre chops; Andy Garcia is a sharpshooter; Charles Martin Smith is a deskman who comes up with the idea to nail gangster Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) for income tax evasion.
The first absurdity is watching Capone speak in hammy soliloquies, some of them not making sense even if you slowed down the movie and read the subtitles. DeNiro plays Capone as a capricious fat king with minions fetching everything for him. He lives in a hotel and appears to be all his, with no other guests. At the end of a monologue about “Enthusiasms” he takes a baseball bat to the head of one of his subordinates. The script is credited to David Mamet who has written more grown-up stuff; this time, it feels the only time he’s written a script at a junior high school level.
How sensational though are Brian DePalma’s set pieces, like the Union Station staircase sequence with a baby stroller rolling down uncontrollably while men on opposite sides exchange gunfire – this is inspired from a scene in the 1925 Russian film “Battleship Potemkin.” The raid at the Canadian border has multiple gung-ho moments. And Ness chases after Nitti (Billy Dragon) on courthouse rooftops. All of this action stuff is lifted up by Ennio Morricone’s exuberant, swirling score – perfect match to the hop and flow of DePalma’s visuals.
Look at this after you stumble through the new “Lawless” Prohibition movie and you will see there is no comparison. That one, so geriatric. Versus this one, so corny but flamboyant. And the biggest difference is that “Untouchables” has magnificent sets while the current “Lawless” takes place in non-descript forest towns with nothing interesting to look at. You may wish that it had more hardnosed facts, but you’re never humbug with “Untouchables.”
119 Minutes. Rated R.
VIOLENT DRAMA / MALE AGGRESSION PANDEMONIUM / WEEKEND THRILLS
Film Cousins: “The Public Enemy” (1931); “Scarface” (1932); “Public Enemies” (2009). “Lawless” (2012).