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The Untouchables

June 18, 2007

In the 1920’s and early part of 1930’s, prohibition in US, led to the rise of illegal liquor or what is called in common terms as bootlegging. Mafia gangs fought pitched battles for the control of the trade, and none more serious than Chicago , which emerged as the focal point. The notorious St.Valentine’s Day massacre highlighted, this dangerous trend. The law enforcement agencies choose to look the other way, as gangsters merrily plied their trade. And of all the gangsters, one name struck terror alike in the hearts of cops, civilians and rival gangsters alike. Alphonse Gabriel Capone or more commonly known as Al Capone .

The Untouchables is a 1987 movie that takes its inspiration from a real life story of a Fed agent Eliot Ness who along with his incorruptible team, took on Capone, and managed to nail him for tax evasion.

The movie starts off with a young girl, dying in an explosion engineered by Capone’s men. The FBI appoints Eliot Ness( Kevin Costner) to take on Al Capone( Robert De Niro). Not an easy task, Capone has completely bought over Chicago city. The police department is corrupt from top to bottom, and a number of cops are on his payroll. The legal system is stacked with Capone’s cronies. None are willing to testify against Capone. Ness’s attempts to go straight, are met with failure, due to corrupt officers in the Department.

After a raid ends in a fiasco, Ness encounters an Irish cop Jimmy Malone( Sean Connery), who advises Ness to encounter Capone on his own terms. He also advises Ness to form his own team of people who owe no allegiance to Capone. And so he picks up George Stone( Andy Garcia ), an Italian American trainee cop and an expert marksman, and a nerdy accountant Oscar Wallace( Martin Smith) who has a record of Capone’s tax violations. How they finally manage to nail Capone, in the process earning the tag of “Untouchables” is what the movie is about.

There are some excellent dramatic sequences.

The first encounter between Ness and Malone, and then Malone instructing Ness how to tackle Capone .

Another superb scene is where Malone recruits George Stone, by mocking at his Italian origins. As also the scene where Capone smashes a gangster’s head with a baseball bat, Ness having a showdown with Capone after Malone has been shot dead, Malone’s death scene.

The Odessa Steps sequence so called because it was adapted by Brian De Palma from a similar sequence in Battleship Potemkin , is brilliantly shot. In total slow motion, the gun shots mixed with the cry of a mom, as she sees her pram fall down the steps. 10-15 minutes of sheer cinematic brilliance.

On par with Ben Hur’s chariot race scene and the Mexican stand off scene in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly .

Robert De Niro as Al Capone , is brilliant as ever. Being a method actor , De Niro , in fact hired Al Capone’s own tailor, to design the costumes for him, when in fact, it was Giorgio Armani who designed the costumes for the rest of the cast. Be it strutting around like a master, blustering and bullying people, De Niro , once again proves that when it comes to being nasty, he is a master.

Sean Connery got the Best Supporting Actor , for his role of Jimmy Malone , and he also gets some of the best lines. If you can overlook his Scottish accent, though he is supposed to be Irish in the movie, Connery as usual, gives a superb act. Especially in the church scene, where he mentors Ness and also the scene where he provokes Stone.

It is quite tough to hold your own, when pitted against scene stealers like De Niro and Connery . To his immense credit , Kevin Costner , comes up with a solid, understated performance as Eliot Ness . His emotions are superb especially in the pre climax scene, when he hears Nitti saying that his friend died like a pig. As a loving father, as a honest agent, as a man of principles, Costner gives a great performance.

Andy Garcia as the rookie cop George Stone is in fine form, and he is just brilliant in that Odessa steps sequence, while Martin Smith provides comic relief as the nerdy accountant Wallace.

And of course excellent background score by Ennio Morricone , especially in the opening credits. The art work wonderfully recreates the 1920’s Chicago era. All in all a great movie to be watched, any day and any time, thanks to some solid performances, wonderful screenplay and great action sequences.

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