The decade is the 1920s, via a stylized 1986, the town is Chicago and notorious gangster Al Capone (Robert De Niro) is at the height of his criminal power. Holding the city in his firm grip, his constant acts of violence alert the FBI who place young Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) in charge of the flying squad with his sole mission to be to bring down the kingpin. After initial failures, Ness resorts to using a small group of trusted men to enact a sweeping plan of justice. Veteran beat cop Jim Malone (Sean Connery), new recruit George Stone (Andy Garcia) and accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) form ˜The Untouchables,’ men who cannot be bought and go about a systematic assault on Capone’s empire.
Following the template of simplistic storytelling made famous by George Lucas and Star Wars, director Brian De Palma translates the television version of The Untouchables onto the silver screen. From the opening scene where the camera slowly descends upon the towel-covered face of De Niro’s Capone, the de facto Mayor due to his various illegal businesses. Any thoughts of him being portrayed as a morally grey Robin Hood-type robber of the rich for the poor are immediately dispelled and there is no doubt that this is the villain of the piece. This fact is reinforced by the rather shocking bomb scene that immediately follows.
De Niro, a man still within his golden era of performances piled on the weight in order to better represent Capone and his method acting, combined with a script by David Mamet that is full of quiet venom and explosive anger provides a fantastic evil for the fresh-faced Costner’s Eliot Ness to play against. The rest of the major cast are excellent in their rather obvious, clichÃ©d roles, with Andy Garcia as the young go-getting super-cop, Charles Martin Smith as the number-crunching accountant thrust into an action role and the wonderful Sean Connery as the Gandalf-like mentor of the rest of the group. His speech in the Church has become as iconic as anything in the film as he rattles off the line He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way! with a growling, honest intensity that underlines the position these men are in.
Ennio Morricone, the man behind so many of the spaghetti Western theme tunes turns his hand to this gangster story with surprising skill, although his own unique style can’t help but remember his past glories. De Palma may well have noticed this himself as the plot, rather inexplicably switches to the desert and a very Sergio Leonne-esque horseback charge. But then, this is a pulpy Western at it’s core, it just happens to spend most of its running time in a big city. Every detail has clearly been lovingly created, including the wardrobe, designed by non-other than Giorgio Armani.
The Untouchables is a masterpiece in mythological story-telling. Like Star Wars, it paints its characters in bold black and whites. There is a real sense of good and evil in the main characters, with the shady greys almost entirely removed. The pitch-perfect cast, with baby-faced Costner taking on Brando-inspired De Niro at the front provides a basic-yet-impressive narrative, scored with wily Western-style panache by Ennio Morricone and never sacrificing the fun for things such as historical accuracy, The Untouchables may not be the most engrossing or dramatic crime film, but it is one of the most fondly remembered.