Drawing A Bead On Capone And The Gang

Posted: June 03, 1987

The moral of The Untouchables, a deeply satisfying and entertaining Prohibition gang-buster directed with a Tommy gun's rat-tat-tat, is that G-men are family men.

Filmed in sleek art-deco style by Brian De Palma from David Mamet's streamlined and witty script, the film could be called The Godfather of Miami Vice. Told from law enforcer Eliot Ness' point of view, the film celebrates how Treasury agents brought down racketeer Al Capone's bootlegging empire, the cocaine trade of its day.

Nominally based on Ness' memoirs, which also inspired the Robert Stack TV series of the late '50s, De Palma's operatic movie swells with Ennio Morricone's symphonic score and Chicago's dazzling architecture.

The basic good-versus-evil story, The Untouchables contrasts straight-arrow Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) with crooked Capone (Robert De Niro). In a camera- angle burlesque as funny as Mamet's dialogue, De Palma looks up to sainted Ness and down upon diabolical Capone.

When we're introduced to Ness, a doting husband and father out to break the Chicago rackets, he's a high-minded dufus completely out of his depth. (It helps that Costner resembles a bland Harrison Ford.)

After Ness commands his men to raid an abandoned garage in which they uncover not hootch but Chinese parasols, he's hugely humiliated. Obviously Capone was tipped off by one of Ness' men. When Ness chances upon beat cop Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), he's inspired to form his own band of gang- busters.

By acting fiat, The Untouchables belongs to rough-hewn Connery, who brings gamy humor to the role of Malone, the mentor who teaches Ness about gang- busting, Chicago-style. In a city in which ganglord Capone instructs, ''You can get further with a kind word and a gun than just a kind word," Malone lightens up humorless Ness' mood by advising that "the first rule of law enforcement is to make sure when your shift is over, you go home alive."

With a nerdy Treasury Department accountant, Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith), and George Stone (Andy Garcia), a cop with a barracuda smile, Ness and Malone form a quartet of gang-busters a local news-hound dubs "the untouchables." Like the Rover Boys, they mop up Chicago.

Playing their nemesis Capone, blimp-size De Niro is windier than the Windy City. (Just because he played the young Brando in The Godfather, Part II is no reason he should begin to act like the blowhard Brando.) De Niro uses his stubby hands with their elegantly tapering fingers to spell out and emphasize each syllable, a practice he showed off in Angel Heart. By contrast to De Niro, even Marlee Matlin looks restrained. De Niro's is not a performance so much as it is a papal appearance, and yet that doesn't diminish The Untouchables one whit.

Apart from Connery, the star of the film is Mamet's deadpan script, which obviously inspired one of the movie's baldest old-movie tributes. During a shootout with Capone's men at the train station, Ness stops a baby carriage

from careening down the stairs - parodying Eisenstein's Potemkin (1925). Though he looks as though he couldn't chew gum and walk at the same time, Ness

deploys a Tommy gun and a toddler simultaneously.

THE UNTOUCHABLES * * *

Produced by Art Linson, directed by Brian De Palma, written by David Mamet, photography by Stephen H. Burum, music by Ennio Morricone, distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Running time: 2 hours.

Eliot Ness - Kevin Costner

Jimmy Malone - Sean Connery

Al Capone - Robert De Niro

George Stone - Andy Garcia

Oscar Wallace - Charles Martin Smith

Parent's guide: R (obscenity, violence, gore).

Showing at: Area theaters.

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