The Untouchables

The Untouchables ★★★★

The Chain 2021

#5 From Blow Out via Brian De Palma

There is something about the tale of the head of a criminal organization, meeting justice in the form of prosecution not for his actual crimes, but for tax evasion, which seems particularly prescient.

This is what we know about Al Capone, that in the end he wasn't thrown in prison for racketeering, or murder, but for failing to pay his taxes. It's not exactly justice in the sense that he wasn't prosecuted for his most heinous crimes, but it got the job done and put him behind bars.

But of course this really isn't about Capone, it's about Eliot Ness and his small gang of Untouchables who took on Capone, apparently with minimal help from the police, for obvious reasons, in an attempt to disrupt his business. And if you think that it's all going to end happily for this band of brothers, then buckle in, because you're in for a bumpy ride.

While Ness (Kevin Costner) and Stone (Andy Garcia) make it safely through to seeing their nemesis put behind bars, sadly the true driving forces behind their fight do not.

Malone (Sean Connery, who naturally steals the show) is the incorruptible cop destined to pound the beat until his retirement, because he can't be bought, who promotes the idea of fighting fire with fire. While Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) is nothing more than an accountant, foisted on Ness, but who arrives with the answer as to how Capone can, and later will, be taken down.

De Palma seems much more restrained than usual, barely dipping into his usual bag of tricks, although he does dip into someone else's, in this case Sergei Eisenstein, as ever operating on the basis that if you're going to steal you might as well steal from the best, with his Odessa Steps sequence, with perhaps a dash of Hitchcock thrown in to spice it up.

I know it's obvious, I know everyone has to mention it, but it is brilliant, with a Hitchcockian, tortuous build-up which both sets the scene and builds the tension, and then that superbly edited slow motion sequence which shows the difference between montage and the random choppy editing so beloved of today's action directors.

All of this is set to an Ennio Morricone score which goes from elegiac to urgent and provides us with a moment where he demonstrates why he should have been employed to score a Bond movie at some point.

Of course none of this much to do with the real case, other than the bare bones, Capone's crimes and his conviction, but what is really missing, the thing that's really going to satisfy you that justice has been done, is any sense that any of his enablers, the cops, judges, politicians and officials who allowed him to do what he did, met with any form of justice. That's the real heart of the criminal activity, people who are at the same time paid to do a job and also paid not to do that very same job, and who allow the crimes to outlive the criminals.

And for those who think that a mob boss who is only convicted on what amounts to a technicality, is not seeing justice properly served, let it be known that in the case of Capone, karma intervened in the form of neurosyphilis and paralytic dementia.