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Untouchables, The

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 03/26/04 08:20:29

"Frankly, I don't trust anyone who doesn't love this movie."
5 stars (Awesome)

You could rob my house, burn it down, be cruel to small dogs, spit in my eye and do all matter of nefarious activities - but if you then said "Ah, but I love The Untouchables..." - hell, you could marry my sister anyday of the week. You're alright by me.

I don't think there's any other movie where I try and slip dialogue into real-life as much as I do with this one. I would love it if I knew someone called Nitti and then someone could ask me "Where's Nitti?" and I'd reply after a pause, "He's in the car". That's how much I love this movie.

Set in prohibition Chicago, 'The Untouchables' is the story of Eliott Ness (Kevin Costner) forming a gang of incorruptible cops to take down Al Capone (Robert DeNiro). His gang consists of nearly-retired beat cop Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery) a seen-it-all cop who feels he has little to offer apart from years of street-smart advice. There's hot-headed young sharp-shooter George Stone (Andy Garcia) plucked straight from the training academy, and lastly Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) a nerdy accountant who thinks tax evasion may be the bizarre key to Capones downfall and whose recruitment into the Untouchables is his first time at handling a gun in action.

Although initially laughed at because of their failure to find not illegal booze, but umbrellas, the Untouchables soon start to make headway, troubling Capone to the extent of putting out a death warrant on them, using his own system of corrupt cops.

That sums up the most refreshing aspect of 'The Untouchables': it's a crime drama where we're firmly on the side of the good guys. There's no glamourising of the gangsters here, no tortured loyalty to friends - 'The Untouchables' is painted black and white, good versus evil. In case we're in any doubt they even blow a small child up in the opening ten minutes. Go get 'em Ness!

But for a films that does paint in broad black and white strokes, it allows room for rich characters and terrific acting. Kevin Costner has one of the worst reps of anyone around, but let's be honest about this, I can name a dozen actors who have done a hell of a lot more bad films than him and who don't get anywhere near as much crap as Kev gets. Look at it this way, he's had far more better performances than Samuel L. Jackson... and who's regarded as the better actor?

Anyway rant over, but Costner is superb here, his best performance alongside 'JFK'. It's a great portrait of a man in a position of authority but plagued by doubts and a lack of confidence. You can see Capones arrogance eating away at him in the early stages, but then see him visibly toughen up as the film progresses until THAT roof-top climax with Nitti. And even then Costner shows us that Ness is no vigilante, but someone who is really tormented by the thought of killing.

DeNiro just has a ball as Capone, a role he was surely born to play. Squatting down and fattening up, he's a childish ball of homicidal rage that creates a very real sense of danger within the film. In contrasts superbly to Ness' sense of goodness and quiet inner steel.

But both would have to admit that this film is owned by one man and one man only: the greatest Scot to ever live (playing an Irishman here), Sir Sean Connery. He can play however many roles he wants in his own accent, but I'll always love him for being a) the best Bond and b) Malone here. Connery is faultless as a cop frustrated by the nagging thought that he hasn't done anything as a cop that'll make a difference, until now - his last chance. And he seizes it with both hands giving him grit and humanity, making him tough and tender and dispensing street-wise advice to the rest of the group:

"You wanna know how you do it? Here's how, they pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send on of his to the morgue! That's the Chicago way, and that's how you get Capone! Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?"

Could any other actor, ever, say those same lines and just get it so damn right? I'd wager not.

Connery is the heart of the film and the one scene I guarantee that will always get me blubbing like a girl is when he's ambushed by Nitti and coughs his last "What are you prepared to do?". What great final words, I want that on my gravestone. (and for anyone crying "Spoiler!", come on it's 'The Untouchables' if you haven't even seen it what the hell are you doing on this site?). It's probably the most deserved acting Oscar in the last 20 years.

The rest of the cast are also superb. Garcia has never been better as the angry young Stone, slowly coming of age in difficult circumstances, and Martin Smith is unforgettable in a small and sad role as the first one to be found 'touchable'.

But the unsung hero of the cast is Billy Drago as hitman Frank Nitti. He's nasty personified and if you had to draw a human representation of evil, chances are he'd look like Nitti. Hateable from the very start, the moment where Ness makes him interface with a car from the top of a building is still a moment I cheer to the day.

"Where's Nitti?" (pause) "He's in the car".

It must have been a huge relief for DePalma to get such a perfect cast, as it allows him to let his direction to really breathe and this is one of his masterpieces, one of the reasons he's still a regarded film-maker. His pacing is superb, his editing of the action pieces crisp and snappy. He knows what he's got here is pure thrilling cinema with no irony, no room for un-needed plotting or characters, so he trims all the fat away to give us a sleek, purposeful, brutal ride that shocks, excites and moves to the day. It's carried off with such panache you can't help but get dragged along.

The film looks sumptous with top-notch production design and great cinematography giving it a glowing period feel. Topped off with Ennio Morricones wonderful music, there's an evocative atmosphere that only Leone can rival.

But the script...as I said earlier, there's no other film I quote from more on a day-to-day routine:

"Your friend died like a stuck Irish pig..."

(cue a trip from a rooftop)

"Did he sound anything like that?!"

"Better than you, you stinkin' Irish pig!" "Oh I like him!"

"Isn't that just like a wop? Brings a knife to a gun fight."

"I do not approve of your methods!"
"Yeah well...you're not from Chicago..."

" I want this guy dead! I want his family dead! I want his house burned to the ground! I want to go there in the middle of the night and piss on his ashes!"

"Somebody messes with me, I'm gonna mess with him."

And the best final line of any film ever...

"Word is they're going to repeal Prohibition. What'll you do then?"
" I think I'll have a drink."

Historical accuracy be damned, this is one of the greatest gangster films of all time and simply one of the greatest films of all time full stop. It's one of those rare breeds that's very hard to even find a nit-pick to fault it. As you can probably tell from this lengthy review, I love this film with an obsession. It's thrillingly old-fashioned in it's bad against good depiction but so entertainingly done it doesn't matter a jot.

This is a film to cure the blues, make me want to live my life like the movies, and if I'm ever feeling jaded about cinema I just pop this in and I'm a wide-eyed 11 year-old seeing it for the first time again.

Hell I even love the tag-line and the poster like no other.

"Never stop fighting until the fight is done. Here endeth the lesson"

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