Rewatched Jul 09, 2012
Adam Cook’s review:
It has been over ten years since I last watched De Palma’s Western inspired gangster movie and sadly time hasn’t been particularly kind to this so-called classic. Not that the film is bad, there are too many talented individuals involved for it to end up being a mess, but it also wastes and neuters their strengths.
Based on the ‘60s TV show, and playing very loose with historical facts, the film tells the story of Eliot Ness, his team of ‘untouchables’ and their quest to bring Al Capone to justice. As a slice of popcorn entertainment, The Untouchables is more than adequate, but given those involved there is the nagging feeling that this is a missed opportunity. Mamet’s script is infinitely quotable but it is a succession of one-liners lacking the rhythm and tension of his best dialogue. Those one-liners are admittedly very entertaining and frequently funny but it makes the film a hollow experience where the characters are too broad and bordering on caricatures (wasting Patricia Clarkson on a simpering role as the perfect wife is particularly disappointing).
Barring a few typical De Palma flourishes even the direction is rather flat. Perhaps unsurprisingly he is at his best when delivering the violence and staging the more elaborate set pieces. The most famous sequence, the Battleship Potemkin train station homage, is bordering on parody yet its overblown theatrics fits in well with the rather broad comicbook tone of the film. Sadly, Morricone’s score is largely forgettable when you compare it to his best work but at least the production design is impressive as is Burum’s cinematography.
The cast is a good mix of youth and experience with most delivering fine performances. Costner’s typically flat delivery works in the film’s favour as it fits his role as the overly earnest yet inexperienced Ness. Connery provides great Irish colour and whilst the role is a waste of De Niro’s talents (particularly in a decade where he delivered some of his finest performances) his pantomime villain is a joy to watch, even if he is only in it for a few minutes.
Although often cited as one of the decade’s best films, The Untouchables just can’t compete with the true greats of the period. Entertaining? Undoubtedly but this is not an untouchable classic (if you pardon the terrible pun).