Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Untouchables (1987) Film Review
Crossing genres and boundaries, Brian De Palma's classic Eighties film has all the style and quality that audiences have come to expect from films about gangsters. This time, however, the focus is on the men who brought them down, not the bad guys, as was the case in The Godfather and Goodfellas.
Based on a poor Fifties TV show that had all the grace of Dude, Where's My Car?, The Untouchables comes from a subtle script by David Mamet. De Palma's previous two films had deflated quickly at the box office and he needed a hit, which doesn't mean he was willing to remove the harsh reality. He deals with death, that of children and heroes, as comfortably as he does with Eliot Ness's (Kevin Costner) brush with lawlessness. Throughout the moral trials of our central characters, he handles his camera like a master, combining zooms and split focus amongst other techniques to communicate his message as attractively as possible, yet never trigger-happy with special effects.
De Palma's skill in drifting in and out of Western and gangster movie styles is commendable, especially with Costner (previously of Silverado) in the lead. The casting is perfect and when viewed in context, a brave move, as Costner was far from the star then that he became in the Nineties. Sean Connery is also an interesting choice, playing the beat cop Malone, who remains a mythical figure throughout. Andy Garcia, as the hot shot George Stone, is a joy to behold and Charles Martin Smith, although the least successful of the four, brings the weight of the film's comedy to his role as Oscar Wallace.
The visuals are textually dense to a Spielbergian extreme, the appearance of the glamorous and nameless young woman before each of the film's deaths juxtaposing the ugly reality of upholding the law. Contrast is also used to underline this same truth in the scenes with Robert De Niro, as Al Capone, where his Champagne-quaffing glamour offsets Ness's rigorous simplicity .
The descent of Ness into moral ambiguity is a level of character development I long to see executed with such patient skill in today's cinematic offerings. The band of brothers in The Untouchables is one soldered with iron. Not only are we involved in their bond, but have our anxiety pushed to the fullest extreme in the breathtaking and seemingly endless staircase scene that tips its hat to Battleship Potemkin.
There is little possibility that The Untouchables could be improved, from camerawork to the wonderfully powerful and uplifting Ennio Morricone score that inspires a feeling of awe. It is De Palma's best film and one of the decade's greatest.
Almost untouchable.Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2005
If you like this, try:American Gangster