The Untouchables (1987)

The Untouchables (1987)

1987 R 119 Minutes

Crime | Drama | History | Thriller

Young Treasury Agent Elliot Ness arrives in Chicago and is determined to take down Al Capone but it's not going to be easy, because Capone has the police in his pocket. Ness meets Jimmy Malone a ve...

Overall Rating

8 / 10
Verdict: Good

User Review

  • WHAT I LIKED: The likes of Mean Streets and The Godfather made it fashionable for gangster movies to delve into, empathise with and drool over the mobster characters themselves, but Brian de Palma's 'The Untouchables,' perfectly recognises their evil and is rather brilliantly about taking them down instead. David Mamet's script follows prohibition agent Eliot Ness' memoirs on sticking Al Capone in jail after his criminal activities saw Chicago descend into a place of violence, and that inherently gives you something very real indeed to root for throughout the film.

    But far more than the great story, what makes The Untouchables so engaging is the way the script leaves room for the picture to speak its words. There's so much to be gleaned in what's not said here - the cuts from Capone's meetings to Ness' family, the mutual recognition between characters who trust each other within a sea of corruption, realisations and the advancements of the plot being dealt through people's actions and reactions rather than their words. This in the hands of the great Brian de Palma all means you're hooked by catching on just as the characters themselves do, but it also crucially means that the performances are able to shine through far more than they might otherwise.

    There's very little awkward dialogue or forced meetings; instead it's all a case of relatively naturalistic expressions of nervousness, terror and confidence for the team of cops - both individually and as a collective. Kevin Costner as Ness does a great job of dealing all of that with great nuance, and his pal Sean Connery delivers a ruggid, humourous and often scene-stealing performance to create a character that feels real and lived-in.

    De Palma's direction on the other hand certainly isn't what you'd call realistic, as whilst he does leave his camera static at just the right moments, most of the time it's moving around to very directly evoke the right response from the audience. Sometimes it's following a character react to something we haven't seen, often it's placed in the perspective of someone else, and it frequently cuts to close-up to emphasise reactions - all to masterfully play with the anticipation allowed by a screenplay that leaves most of its heavy lifting to the lens. This works particularly well in the tense scenes where the cops are following or directly engaging with the gangsters, and when you pair such great direction and camerawork with Ennio Morricone's incredible score, you'll certainly be on the edge of your seat whenever it's intended.

    WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Perhaps the film's main focus isn't on the complexities of its characters, but that's not really a problem as they're still given enough humanity to engage with their mission.

    VERDICT: A great story told by a great script that gives much of the anticipation in what's not said over to great direction, great performances and a great score, 'The Untouchables,' really is one of the perfect gangster movies.