Directed by Brian de Palma. Starring Sean Connery, Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith.
As noted critic Pauline Kael wrote, the 1987 box-office hit The Untouchables is “like an attempt to visualise the public’s collective dream of Chicago gangsters.” In other words, this lavish reworking of the vintage TV series is a rousing potboiler from a bygone era, so beautifully designed and photographed–and so craftily directed by Brian De Palma–that the historical reality of Prohibition-era Chicago could only pale in comparison. From a script by David Mamet, the movie pits four underdog heroes (the maverick lawmen known as the Untouchables) against a singular villain in Al Capone, played by Robert De Niro as a dapper caesar holding court (and a baseball bat) against any and all challengers. Kevin Costner is the naive federal agent Eliot Ness, whose lack of experience is tempered by the streetwise alliance of a seasoned Chicago cop (Sean Connery, in an Oscar-winning performance), a rookie marksman (Andy Garcia), and an accountant (Charles Martin Smith) who holds the key to Capone’s potential downfall. The movie approaches greatness on the strength of its set pieces, such as the siege near the Canadian border, the venal ambush at Connery’s apartment, and the train-station shootout partially modeled after the “Odessa steps” sequences of the Russian classic Battleship Potemkin. It’s thrilling stuff, fueled by Ennio Morricone’s dynamic score, but it’s also manipulative and obvious. If you’re inclined to be critical, the movie gives you reason to complain. If you’d rather sit back and enjoy a first-rate production with an all-star cast, The Untouchables may very well strike you as a classic. –Jeff Shannon