(United States, 1987)
I'm not the biggest Brian De Palma supporter on the planet. I consider him to be hugely overrated – a stylistically superior director whose plots come across as thinly-disguised rip-offs of more accomplished filmmakers. Nevertheless, De Palma can boast one truly great motion picture – not Carrie or Body Double or Dressed to Kill, but 1987's The Untouchables. There's nothing subtle about this motion picture – it's a rousing gangster film with plenty of action – and its lack of pretentiousness is one of its hallmark qualities. When I first saw the movie on its opening weekend during the summer of 1987, I went because of Sean Connery. After the movie was over, I was exhilarated. If I had been compiling Top 10 lists that year, The Untouchables would have been at or near the pinnacle. Years later, the film has much the same effect on me as it did that balmy June evening. Even as familiar as I am with it, I can enjoy it as thoroughly as the first time. That's a sign of a great movie, and The Untouchables exhibits it. (I should also mention that the score, by Ennio Morricone, is one of my all-time favorites. Great work, either to listen to on a CD or as an accompaniment to the visuals.)
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The movie opens in 1930. Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) has just been assigned the Capone case and has arrived at his office in the Chicago Police Department full of righteous indignation and grand aspirations. Ness is a straight-shooter who believes that the law, whether good or bad, is paramount. He may not agree with prohibition, but, as long as that's the way the law is written, he will defend it, and that means getting Capone (Robert De Niro) off the streets. One of Ness' early liquor raids is a failure, and it turns him into a front-page laughingstock. However, instead of causing him to turn tail, it stiffens his resolve. Ness' team of four comes together quickly. He is joined by a hardened Chicago cop, Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), a man with a one line lesson for every occasion. Jimmy helps Ness recruit George Stone (Andy Garcia), a sharpshooter from the police academy. Then there's Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith), a Treasury Department accountant investigating Capone's lack of income tax returns who finds himself turning in his pen for a gun. Together, these four become known as "The Untouchables," and, in short order, they are inhibiting Capone's operation. That when the boss strikes back – viciously and violently.
The Untouchables is a tour de force, the pinnacle of a career. This movie may not have much thematic depth, but it represents two hours of pure, exuberant entertainment – an epic gangster tale rendered on a grand scale. Put simply, The Untouchables is a great adventure movie, with at least a half-dozen tremendous action scenes and a script that delivers one quotable line after another. It is the center jewel in director Brian De Palma's crown. No matter how long he stays in the business, he will likely never surpass what he accomplished here, telling this larger-than-life tale in larger-than-life fashion.
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