Saturday, 6 February 2010

No.4 : The Untouchables

Loosely based on that episode of ‘The Simpsons’ where Homer becomes The Beer Baron ‘The Untouchables’ tells the tale of the battle for the streets of Chicago in the 1930’s.

It’s the era of prohibition and Robert De Niro’s Al Capone runs all the rackets with an iron baseball bat, free from prosecution given that he has all the cops on his payroll. Things start to change however when treasury agent Elliott Ness (Kevin Costner) is appointed to take on the Mob.

It starts a bit slowly for the good guys, and after a failed bust that leaves Ness looking like a total parasol he decides to rethink his strategy. He firstly recruits an old Irish beat cop in the shape of Sean Connery and then Andy Garcia straight from the Police Academy - possibly because he can do funny computer noises - it isn’t really explained. To fill out the foursome they also get an accountant who should really stop going on about the tax situation - that’ll never solve anything!

Things quickly improve with a few successful raids that soom get Al on the ropes. He fights back with a few hits of his own and soon it’s down to who can survive the overlong slo-mo shootout and indeed the court room that will win the day.

I’m not a great fan of the director Brian DePalma who, apart from the opening scene in ‘Carrie’, has done little that I’ve enjoyed - his remake of ‘Scarface’ for example is practically unwatchable. This however is his best work, no doubt due to the scriptwriting of David Mamet whose work for Definitive TV show ‘The Unit’ is exceptional.

The cast all do good work too, apart from the miscast De Niro who never convinces as the psycho kingpin of crime. Sean Connery is great as Oirish copper Malone and got an Oscar for his efforts; maybe more for time served than this alone but he is undeniably watchable. His accent deviates from ‘Danny Boy’ to ‘Rob Roy’ but what the hell, he’s good value and tough as nails.

Costner does solid work in most of the films where he isn’t directing and apart from ‘Field of Dreams’ this is his best picture too. Andy Garcia makes an early appearance and despite being somewhat underused he still shows a bit of star quality.

Overall the film is a goodies vs. baddies affair and although plainly drawn they all offer a lot by way of character and excitement. I liked the white suited hit man, Frank Nitti ,who was marvellously evil and his polar opposite in the weedy accountant who was pretty tasty with the shot gun. The rights and wrongs of prohibition are never really challenged with Ness’ straight ‘the law is the law’ arrow tested when his by the book views are stretched by the scofflaw bad guys.

The violence is brutal throughout and I liked that no one was safe from a grisly death. Of course history is played with fast and loose but if you are looking for a documentary a big Hollywood production shouldn’t really be your first port of call.

It’s not all plain sailing with a few too many arty directorial touches thrown in for no good measure and the final courtroom show down between Ness and Capone, which never happened, is a bit OTT.

Overall however you get a cracking fast paced crime movie set in the always cinematic Chicago with plenty of grisly action and a few wrong foots. The sets and the Armani costumes are great as is the score by Ennio Morricone - apart from a couple of misplaced 80's synthesisers. A Definitive hit!

The Definitive Tag Line : Fought Ness Monster! 77%

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