The Untouchables

The Untouchables ★★★★★

In his excellent review of The Untouchables, Cramer K opens up by asking if there has ever been a more bald-faced cinematic thief than Brian De Palma. You would probably expect a huge fan of De Palma's such as I to launch an impassioned defence of him and state that's not the case.

However, to quote a particular excellent episode of Blackadder (doesn't narrow it down, obviously), De Palma is as guilty as a puppy sitting next to a pile of poo. I think the way these things work is that if the director in question is a load of crap and you don't particular like his or her work, it is more likely to bother you. Rarely during gushing reviews of Quentin Tarantino films, another bald-faced thief if ever I saw one, and another favourite director of mine, do you see the reviewer stopping to complain about the latest 1970s crime film he's filched some of his plot from.

The fact that De Palma has consistently made outstandingly entertaining films for so much of his career tends to make you forget the fact that he's Alfred Hitchcock's considerably slimmer shadow. The Untouchables, being a largely fictionalised telling of the fall of Al Capone, might look on paper as though it is perhaps the least Hitchcockian of De Palma's films. I believe that is the case and it is interesting that as De Palma strikes out as much on his own as he has at any point during his career that he comes up with, in my opinion, his most enjoyable film. That's not to say one other influence that is less often cited when discussing De Palma's work is not present and correct.

The famous scene where Kevin Costner and Andy Garcia come under heavy fire as they battle to stop an improbably well balanced baby's pram from coming to any mischief while trying to collar Capone's bookkeeper is such a case. Although usually closely associated with Battleship Potemkin, it employs a slow-motion effect that De Palma had already used before (most notably, in my mind, during an extraordinary scene in The Fury) and had clearly taken as an effect from Sam Peckinpah.

He even throws in another Peckinpah nod during the raid at the Canadian border - both in terms of the fact that it resembles a western scene but also in that it is just as unflinching and brutal in its violence. De Palma's magpie-like direction can be seen at many other points in the film as David Mamet's magnificent script allows almost all its characters, main or supporting, some delicious dialogue and even allows the film to get away with its more sentimental moments in ways that you would not let other films get away with them.

Kevin Costner is one of those actors that, despite never really offending me in anything that he has done, tends to cop a large amount of criticism for whatever film or performance he has turned in. In fairness, I haven't seen him in a great deal of films but all those that I've seen him in - this, No Way Out, Thirteen Days and JFK off the top of my head - have all been excellent films and he is very effective in all of them. Here he plays the role that he always seems most suited to and as such it's not a huge stretch for him but he is still a perfectly solid base for the extremely talented and charismatic support cast to work round.

Sean Connery seems to be having so much fun in a more supporting role that you do wonder why he hasn't done one or two more in his career, let off the loose as the ageing cop who finally decides he's had enough of stomping the beat in the shadow of colleagues who get increasingly rich from the hand-outs from Capone. It's quite refreshing to see a performance in a Hollywood blockbuster where the actor in question doesn't bother with effecting the correct accent AT ALL. Nobody seems to care as well. Extraordinary.

All the while, Robert De Niro enjoys himself almost as much in a genuinely frightening performance as Capone. He lays his cards on the table in his very first scene, long before the baseball bat/cranium interaction that occurs later on, glaring a hole through a man who nervously nicks him while shaving him. Seeing this for the first time as a 12 year old, it had far more effect on me than the xenomorphs of Aliens or the light-bending hunter of Predator in terms of me coming close to dumping my trollies.

Then you have Andy Garcia, Richard Bradford and Charles Martin Smith all gamely and memorably battling it out for honours behind the leading three only to be outshone by the chilling Billy Drago as the intriguingly effete lead henchman Nitti. He's in the car. The only talent that really misses out is Patricia Clarkson, given almost nothing to do except look lovely in the rare scenes she gets, usually offering a shoulder to Costner.

The Untouchables is a force of nature as far as films go. Its tendency to be unashamedly saccharine on several occasions and perhaps even outrageously creative at massaging historical fact are far more likely to open it up to intense criticism from some quarters than perhaps even the worst of De Palma's films. However, it's been one of my favourite ever films for almost a quarter of a century now and I'm quite sure it will be by the time I get put in the morgue.

🇵🇱 Steve G liked these reviews