May 1, 2015

[Movies] The Untouchables (1987)

A big part of the reasons why I have two days dedicated to movie reviews is the desire to catch up on older stuff that people tend to include in various "must-watch" lists depending on their interests. Just thinking about all the different movies out there that I haven't seen sort of boggles the mind and the challenge of finding time to watch them all is pretty daunting. Plus there's then fact that a lot of the more serious movies tend to be lengthier ones as well, thus further obligating one to allot more time for such efforts.

The Untouchables is a movie that I've seen in bits and pieces but I never got around to sitting down to watch from start to finish until recently. A lot of big movies seem to fall into this category for me - thank years of parents watching movies that probably aren't safe for kids combined with the never ending cycle of movies on cable channels like HBO.

The movie was pretty good and I can see why it often gets cited as one of those films that are worth the time and investment of brain cells. It wasn't quite perfect, but it certainly packs more of a punch than a lot of stuff that you see today.

Synopsis: The Untouchables is a 1987 crime drama movie directed by Brian De Palma. The screenplay was written by David Marnet based on The Untouchables novel by Oscar Fraley and Eliot Ness.

The movie is set in Prohibition-era Chicago when Al Capone (Robert De Niro) pretty much controls the city through the illegal liquor trade. Federal Agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) from the Bureau of Prohibition has been summoned to the city to try and stop Capone's illegal liquor operations and given command of a decently sized task force of officers. But his initial efforts fail in a publicly embarrassing manner due to corrupt policemen tipping off Capone and it seems his efforts are doomed to fail.

Ness happens to encounter veteran Irish-American officer Jim Malone (Sean Connery), who appreciates Ness's efforts to clean up the city and eventually offers to help him. The two then enlist men fresh out of the police academy to find individuals not yet under the influence of Capone and they end up with a marksman named George Stone (Andy Garcia) and an accountant named Oscar Wallance (Charles Martin Smith), who had been assigned to Ness to help with his efforts. Using information somehow sourced by Malone, the group starts to execute a series of successful raids, which in turn draws notice from Al Capone and his men.

The movie's pacing moves at a pretty steady clip given it runs for 119 minutes, but I suppose De Palma's style has a tendency to really build up moments. A lot of the movie feels like a series of montages of progress and then we slow down to focus on key moments. This wasn't entirely bad - it's not like the whole movie is a montage. There are just some bits that feel slower than they needed to be while others felt a little fast. Perhaps we can blame temporal distortions while shooting.

But those key moments are rather brilliant. I don't want to go into detail since yes, I'm sure there are some of you who still haven't seen the movie and might get spoiled. But we have to appreciate how the violence in this movie feels very different from what we see in more recent movies. Death can be pretty artistic and De Palma has a way of "celebrating" a death scene or at least knowing how to dress it up to make it feel more memorable.

Acting-wise, it's hard to walk away with a stronger sense of everyone's performance. Sure, Sean Connery is Sean Connery and you can't go wrong with him. But admittedly Robert De Niro actually felt a little subdued in his performance here, as if he was being swallowed up by his own coat or something. Andy Garcia was similarly silent, but perhaps even more trapped in the background. The accountant had more of an impact of things, although his performance wasn't quite award winning.

As a whole, the movie is a pretty interesting story and we follow things along as the conflict between our "untouchables" escalates with Al Capone devoting more and more resources to thwarting their efforts - permanently. But they wisely kept things focused on this side of the narrative and didn't bother giving everyone side-plots to worry about. I go back to movies like Gangster Squad that seemed to follow almost the same formula but ended up really lousy.

The Untouchables is a distinct movie experience that may not feel like the strongest narrative overall, but it's shot in a manner that is compelling and quite beautiful. It's definitely a movie worth watching and perhaps a bit of an adventure in itself. Thus it gets 4 drawn out gunfights out of a possible 5.


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