The Untouchables

The Untouchables ★★★★★

Brian De Palma Marathon film #18

You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way

I watched a rental VHS copy of The Untouchables as a kid in the late '80s, before I even knew who Brian De Palma was. It's been a while since I last saw it, but it has clearly lingered in the memory. The film sees Brian De Palma back into the mainstream scene with a film adaption of the classic television series of the same name.

David Mamet's script is spot on. Full of emotion, devastation, revenge, retribution, loss, grief, and most importantly justice, both directly and indirectly. While this may be a more mainstream production with a major studio, it still has plenty of De Palma's visual touches: camera pull backs, slow tracking shots, slow zooms, wide shots, and a handful of his trademark techniques. Ennio Morricone's musical scores throughout are great and enhances the moment perfectly, be it uplifting, downbeat. It hits the right note all the time.

The films sees a perfect pairing of Kevin Costner and Sean Connery in the two main roles, Costner as the treasury officer and Connery as Molone, a tough, no-nonsense experienced police officer - which is brilliant and refreshing to see. He's meant to be Irish, you complain? Who cares? If that is a problem to someone, then they are being captious. It's the performance itself that matters and Connery delivers an Oscar winning one, and also happens to deliver some of the best dialogue in the whole thing.

A flawlessly paced film with some excellent performances and an unforgettable set-piece in the railway station. It was nice to see the film getting some recognition in the awards season for that year, but it was strange how De Palma was snubbed once more. Then again, it isn't too strange when you think about it.

📋 De Palma Trademark Checklist:

Overhead shot   ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔

The film opens with a lengthy overhead shot of Al Capone (Robert De Niro) getting a professional shave, then the camera slowly moves in as he gives surrounding journalists his opinions about businesses, crime, life, his reputation, etc. The camera slowly pulls away from the brutally beaten man at the dinner table and we see the effect it has on the table cloth and surrounding diners. An overhead shot of Capone's bookkeeper as he is told he has to leave town tonight. Ness' POV looking down at the woman and the pram. Ness Overhead/POV from the roof of the court down on to the fallen gangster below.

Dutch angle shot   ✔

Right angled Dutch angle of Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) standing on a walk bridge reading the newspaper headlines just as Malone ( Sean Connery) walks by.

Split diopter shot   ✔ ✔ ✔

Ness (foreground) and Malone (background) in the church discussing teaming up and the plan. Malone in phone booth (foreground) while the street in the background remains in focus. Capone is at an opera sitting up in the balcony (background) while the singer is in extreme foreground.

Arc shot   ✔

As the team celebrate their first bust with fine food and drink, the camera circles their table...

POV shot   ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔

Ness POV through binoculars as he keeps an eye on the shipment coming over the bridge between Canada and the US. Gangster POV as he looks through the windows of Malone's apartment, enters through the bathroom window, creeps down the main hallway, heads down towards the front door, backs up and walks up to the front room where Malone is standing with his back against the intruder. Ness' POV at the train station looking at: the main entrance doors, the far end, the woman and the pram at the bottom of the steps. Gangster POV as he checks the ledge that Ness rolled over. Ness Overhead/POV from the roof of the court down on to the fallen gangster below. Another Ness POV as he goes back into the court house where Stone meets him. Ness POV as he looks at the group photo of the "Untouchables".

Tracking shot   ✔ ✔

The camera follows one of Capone's accountants and Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) down a corridor to the first elevator, carries on to the next elevator (where a group of journalists and photographers are gathered), then down to a third elevator (where Ness and Malone exit), and returns back down the corridor as Ness and Malone follow along. Tracking shot/POV of a gangster as he looks through the windows of Malone's apartment, enters through the bathroom window, creeps down the main hallway, heads down towards the front door, backs up and walks up to the front room where Malone is standing with his back against the intruder.

Slow motion shot   ✔

The fantastic shoot out at the railway station - including a great homage to the Odessa Steps massacre from Battleship Potemkin - is all played out in tension filled slow motion.

👥 De Palma Collaborators:

Stephen H. Burum - director of photography   ✔   (2/8 appearances)
Bill Pankow - editor   ✔   (2/10 - appearances)
Gerald B. Greenberg - editor   ✔   (5/5 appearances)
Ennio Morricone - Composer   ✔   (1/3 appearances)
Robert De Niro   ✔   (4/4 appearances)

Brian De Palma Top 10 Aggregated Films

Brian De Palma Marathon:
⇦ #17 Wise Guys | #19 Casualties of War

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