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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pulpy masterpiece., 15 Oct. 2007
This review is from: The Untouchables [DVD] [1987] (DVD)
In the grand vanguard of the epic gangster movie, The Untouchables, Brian De Palma's 1987 reinvention of the `50s TV show, is never really mentioned in the same breath as such sprawling epics as The Godfather Part One and Two, Goodfellas or Once Upon A Time In America. Why is it so? There are many people, myself included, who think that this film is underrated, never receiving the platitudes that it deserves.

In comparison with other gangster films, The Untouchables is more concerned with the chronicling of the `good guys', led by Kevin Costner's Elliot Ness and backed up by Sean Connery and Andy Garcia, as they attempt to bring justice raining down upon the infamous Al Capone. It's set in 1930s, in the city of Chicago where prohibition is in full swing. Seeing an unmissable opportunity, Capone floods the city with alcohol, dispensing violent justice along the way. His would-be adversaries are clean-cut policemen, epitomised by Elliot Ness. There's no grey line in this film, and there's a very clear divide between Ness and Capone. Ness is shown as a dutiful, honest cop and a loving father and husband. His unrelenting devotion to binging Capone down is highlighted in the scene where a Capone croonie attempts to bribe Ness and his group of righteous cops, before being unceremoniously being kicked out. They are, as the smarmy grunt puts it, `untouchable'.

It's this unambiguousness in the detailing of the tale, focusing very closely on the simple, old-fashioned template of good versus evil, that may disconcert viewers. There's no room for moral uncertainties; just the quest to bring evil to its knees. And in this straightforward telling of an un-complex tale, The Untouchables is excellent. Disregarding any pretensions of grandeur, De Palma crafted a pulsating, hugely enjoyable crime movie, a combination of Indiana Jones and The Godfather. Almost everything is beautifully honed in this film. The performances are uniformly excellent and if Costner is somewhat bland then Connery more than makes up for it with a wonderfully engaging performace as the sagacious Malone. The script by David Mamet is razor-sharp, packed full of brilliant lines (most bagged by Connery) that will have you quoting long after everyone's stopped listening to you. "He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He puts one of yours in the hospital, you put on if his in the morgue. That's the Chicago way."; "Here endeth the lesson."; "Isn't that just like a wop? Brings a knife to a gunfight."

Technically the film is less showy that some De Palma's other work, but it's a beautiful-looking film, with brilliantly orchestrated set-pieces (including the famous Odessa Steps homage) and a eerily thrilling Morricone score. It's not all perfect, however, De Niro's character being its biggest failing and perhaps the reason that this film is never quite regarded as a cult classic. It's not quite De Niro's fault, more the lack of screentime the character is given. Bare a couple of compelling scenes that hint at Capone's derangement, we never quite see just how evil is and therefore the quest to bring him down is not quite as intense as it otherwise could have been. You have to give De Niro credit for once again going way beyond the call of duty to capture Capone but it's a shame he's so underdeveloped.

This is still fiver-star entertainment, in the truest sense. The movie never flags, delivering set-piece upon set-piece until the pounding conclusion. It's a pulpy, fun, uninhibited masterpiece, one that seeks to excite and please and does so unfalteringly.
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