Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Essentials- The Untouchables (1987)

The Essentials-#31

The Untouchables
If you were to ask me what my favorite genre of movie was, I don't think I could give you a straight answer. I always remain pretty open minded about any film, a sure sign of true movie geek. However, I will admit that there are certain genres and sub-genres that make me raise an eyebrow, get me interested. The crime genre is definitely one of those genres. Even though gangsters are bad and I'd never trust one as far as I could throw one, they have been romanticized on film. For better or for worse, audiences find gangsters dead sexy, pun totally intended. Though gangster movies have never made me want to turn to a life of crime, they've done exactly the opposite, they show me crime doesn't pay. The best gangster movies show the audience that crime doesn't pay and that's why they are so important.

When people normally make lists of their favorite gangster movies, both "Godfather" and "Goodfellas" get all the glory. That praise is absolutely understandable, as "Goodfellas" is one of my favorite films of all time and the "Godfather" films come pretty damn close. I've said it before that I've always enjoyed "Goodfellas" more simply because its more realistic. Its also a film that delivers on every level every time you watch it. With all this said, there are an avalanche of great gangster films to watch and enjoy. As I read several lists made of the best gangster movies I am always stunned at how ignored Brian De Palma's "The Untouchables" is.

Not on this blog.

"The Untouchables" tells the remarkable true story about Elliot Ness (played by Kevin Costner) and how he created an elite team of government agents to take down Al Capone (Robert De Niro) during the Prohibition Era. The Prohibition Era was a crazy time, when our government outlawed all consumption and distribution of alcohol. What seemed like a moral move actually gave birth to organized crime in our country and one of the main culprits was Al Capone. The film successfully highlights just how dangerous this time could truly be and how ruthless Capone really was.

I have heard many "Untouchable" dissenters pan De Niro's performance as Al Capone. But honestly, I think its a load of hogwash. I thought De Niro made a great Capone and I think he could easily do again. I will admit that there are moments where the script is a bit hammy, and that may make De Niro's performance a little hammy itself. But I think De Niro goes with the flow of the script very well and creates a malicious and callous presence. Not to say that nobody else in this film is good, Costner is great as Elliot Ness. I love the underrated Billy Drago as Frank Nitti, Capone's right hand man. Drago creates atmosphere that is flat-out horrifying and he nearly steals the show. But the two men who truly steal the show for me are Sean Connery as Jimmy Malone and Andy Garcia as George Stone, two recruits Ness gets on his law enforcement team. Connery has all the best lines and scenes, and he proves here why he's such a legendary actor. Garcia plays a hotshot marksmen and I think its the highlight of his career.

I think the genius of "The Untouchables" is how it balances adventure with violence. There are big moments of action, that may not sound like they work for a gangster movie, but somehow do. I'd call "Goodfellas" a violent movie, but "The Untoucheables" is fairly reserved by comparison, but never once is "The Untouchables" not entertaining. I also don't want you to think that "The Untouchables" isn't gritty, its horrifically gritty. There are quick flashes of unspeakable violence which used very well. Everything in this movie is well staged, and I think De Palma deserves mad credit.

So if you're a gangster-addict like me. If you haven't seen this movie yet, please do so.

"Isn't that just like a wop, brings a knife to gun fight. Get outta here you dago bastard!"

Yep, still humorous.

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