DIRECTOR: Brian De Palma
May Contain Spoilers!
“Where is Nitti anyway?”
“He’s in the car”
It was on this day, 25 years ago, that Brian De Palma’s reimagining of the television series, The Untouchables was release here in the U.K. As Ennio Morricone’s classical and powerful opening score played over the titles, a very telling credit appeared on the screen, almost telling us what to expect. “Costumes by Georgio Armani”.
This entire film is the Armani suit of gangster movies. De Palma had already made his name with films such as Scarface (1983) and Carrie (1976) but this modern classic was about to hit and strike a chord with more than just hard-core mobster fans. This is a complex film, not in a narrtive sense, which actually plays out quite simplisticly, though not to say stupidly, of dumb, but tonally, there’s a lot going on here.
This story of Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his battle against Chigago mobster, Al Capone (Robert De Niro), has its roots in fact, is not accurately portrayed here, but it doesn’t matter. Costner’s Ness is portrayed as a family man on a righteous quest, who orders the police officers below him not to take a drink, which was of course illegal during Prohibition Era, the point of the crime wave with overtook Chicago; Whilst in real life, Ness was a philanderer and an alcoholic!
But we don’t need to see that. Capone is portrayed slightly more accurately as the celebrety crime boss who ran the city with bribery and fear. The basic framework of the story is correct, in the sense that Ness came along and eventually, Capone was brought down by income tax evasion, but in real life, Ness had nothing to do with that investagation.
But what we end up with here, is a classy and hyper stylish version of Chicago of the 1930’s. The blood is strikingly crimson, the music is as crisp as the Armani suits and the set design is beautiful. But this is not a case of style over substance, in fact quite the opposite and going back to the point about the tonal complexity, we have a violent and cool mob film, which is juxtaposed by Morriconne’s moving and heartfelt “Death Theme”, which plays a part in some of then films most moving moments.
Death is the gruesome outcome of the violence and De Palma never shy’s away from that, allowing us to will our heroes to take out Capone and his men, whilst fearing for Ness’ team of Untouchables, the only four clean cops in an otherwise corrupt city.
De Palma has also created a film with some of cinema’s most shocking moments, even on rewatches. The little girl who is blown up in the opening scene; the baseball speech; the stunning homage to Sergei Einstein’s, Battleship Poetemikins’ Odessa Steps scene and the completion of Elliot Ness’s character arch, as he throws the evil Frank Nitti (Billy Drago) off the court roof, finally doing what his murdered mentor had challenged him do all along. “Capone puts one of your men in the hospital, you put one of his in the morgue!”
All of which are works of fiction but a credit to David Mamets screenplay. Another major fictionious element was Sean Connery’s, Jim Malone, the beat cop who would become The Untouchables mentor and heart, which made his brutal death all the more moving. And earned him an Oscar in 1988, even though his acsent was right up the creek!
This in not an epic gangster film, it’s an enjoyable gangster movie, with a running time of just under two hours, therefore on the side of brevety. It’s look amazing with De Palma’s style working probably, at its best with a solid Morricone soundtrack, great casting choices and a very well paced screenplay. It manages to feel realistic without actually being so, in a simlar way to L.A. Confidential, ten years later, where everything is clean, yet lived in.
It’s as if they have captured the idea of a decade and brought it to life without all of the grime which should probably accompany it. But this makes it more palatable and allows us to see the violence for what it is, seeing the world of Chicago in 1930 as a war zone, with the people just trying to survive. And that violance leads to personal tragedy rather glamour or glory.
This is a true classic, which appeals to a broad audience and not just fans of the genre. Defiantly one of the De Palma’s best works, without a doubt, delivering some of cinemas most memorable and genre defining moments.