Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
The Future Of Film
The 100 Greatest Video Games
Robin Williams: The Big Interview
Kevin Feige:
My Movie Life

The Marvel supremo's pick of the flicks
Want To Be An Empire Journalist?
Find out how here
Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Kevin Costner
Robert De Niro
Sean Connery
Andy Garcia.
Directors
Brian De Palma.
Screenwriters
David Mamet.
Running Time
119 minutes

LATEST FILM REVIEWS
Gone Girl
4 Star Empire Rating
Honeymoon
3 Star Empire Rating
Last Impresario, The
3 Star Empire Rating
I Origins
4 Star Empire Rating
Ida
4 Star Empire Rating



5 STAR REVIEWS
Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, The
5 Star Empire Rating
Two Days, One Night
5 Star Empire Rating
Some Like It Hot
5 Star Empire Rating
A Hard Day's Night
5 Star Empire Rating
Boyhood
5 Star Empire Rating

The Untouchables


submit to reddit


Plot
Elliot Ness is an FBI agent with a mission. He is going to bring down the head of the most powerful crime family in America, Al Capone. Whatever it takes.


Review

ROBERT DE NIRO had, of course, been fat before, guzzling pasta and ice cream in record time to transform his sinewy frame into the sweaty bulk of the ruined Jake La Motta for Raging Bull. So no-one was surprised when he slipped away to Italy weeks before he was due on the set of Brian De Palma's broad, beaming cinematic take on the '50s television series, itself based on the true story of the treasury agents who tackled organised crime in Prohibition Chicago: those sturdy, upstanding Untouchables.

Waving aside all offers of make-up tricks and padding, De Niro again devoured pasta, bloating his lean face to match that famously lurid beachball of a head grinning from the sepia-toned shutterbug photos of the era. When he returned to Chicago, he found the tailors Capone had used and had identical suits fitted, demanding silk underwear even though it would never be seen onscreen. Capone's actual cologne bottle and cigar cutter were procured and placed almost invisibly among the lavish paraphernalia of the opening scene.

As the film begins you can hear the voice, thick and threatening, from beneath a hot towel softening him up for a shave. Finally, as De Palma's roof-mounted camera begins to close in, the face is revealed. His jowls mumpy and loose like Brando's Corleone, we get the full vista of Alfonso Capone, and there's no question who wears the bad hat in this particular game of cops 'n' robbers. De Niro had come full circle, all this Method micromanagement landing a pitch-perfect Capone when Capone had modelled himself as a movie villain to begin with.

There was something that scripter David Mamet had grasped instantly: this man was a show-off. As Eliot Ness' incessant needling finally breaks his cool, Capone's stentorian fuming is magnificent: "I want this guy dead! I want his family dead! I want his house burned to the ground! I want to go there in the middle of the night and piss on his ashes!" Silk knickers or not, it was all there on the page.

Out of the many things to adore about De Palma's most completely satisfying movie, you've just got to love the script. Its beats are four to the floor, timed to perfection; its characters are painted in strong, superficial tones; its language is bursting with Mamet's trademark bites of exuberant nastiness. "It's just like a wop to bring a knife to a gunfight," snarls Sean Connery's Oscar-winning Malone to a smarmy hit man.

The speech Malone gives to Kevin Costner's greenhorn Ness in the safety of a church is now a classic: "He puts one of yours in the hospital, you put one of his in the morgue. That's the Chicago way." Everything crystallises with the words - from there it was just a case of getting the best men for the job. Collaboration, of course, lies at the heart of moviemaking and here was the Hollywood equivalent of Real Madrid: showy, extravagant and assured.

Around De Palma's midfield playmaker, spraying curling passes at impossible angles, we already have Mamet's heel-biting fullback, De Niro's gifted keeper (safest hands in the game, back then) and Connery as centreback, a leader, a shouter, the rock who seems so liberated without a bloody syrup on. Add to them Costner's classical forward, Andy Garcia's pretty-boy Italian import, plus Ennio Morricone (composer) on one wing, with his soaring runs and sublime footwork, and Giorgio Armani (costumes) on the other, so elegant, a gent in a boy's game. With a line-up like that, as De Palma puts it in a fresh DVD interview: "We knew it was going to be a hit, you could just feel it."

It's also a remarkably straightforward piece of drama. He would never admit it, the old curmudgeon, but De Palma could easily be taking a lead from Star Wars' pinpoint storytelling. You want to do moral absolutes, good and bad guys duelling across the shiny frames? Then go to the one-stop shop for genre turned myth. We have our bad guy, no doubt about it. He's rotten to the core, weeping at the opera while Connery drags his bleeding body across the floor in a masterclass of cross-cutting dynamics. But the good guys are just as boldly drawn.

As the legendary Ness, Costner was a relative nobody who'd picked up good notices in Silverado. De Palma liked his openness, this sense of the ordinary man behind the movie-star good looks. He has that gleam of American righteousness about him: a Gary Cooper, a Henry Fonda, a James Stewart, an untouchable. While the film never really attempts to deal with the murkier aspects of law enforcement - despite the director, it is a resolutely anti-'70s movie - there is a subtext of Ness reaching beyond the moral bounds he sets himself. At the centre of it all is this Wyatt Earp of Chicago, incorruptible, but finally ready to go the distance. "What are you willing to do?" implores Malone again and again. It's the closest thing we have to complexity, but the movie's pleasures are simplistic, bravura filmmaking on the grandest of scales.

In this age of comic book adaptation, mostly sprawling and messy, The Untouchables got it right without even being a graphic novel to begin with. The design is clean, bright and framed by the strict lines of the Chicago streets. The sensibility is outlandish, almost fantasy. Sure, there's genuine history there somewhere (one of the real Untouchables came to advise), but the film is, in the truest sense, comic book: that formative, psychologically inert patchwork of dreamy morality writ large.

Stylistically, it feels like De Palma was comparatively contained by studio requirements and the rock-hard script - his urge for  flamboyance anchored by the story. Not that he's gone all Mike Leigh  - there are POV angles with a handheld camera sneaking into scenes, si long tracking shots, and that superb Eisenstein party piece in Union Station, an unforgettable action sequence drawn from nothing but his sense of outrageous fun. The point is, such extravagance never pulls you out of the film - for once the story was as opulent as his direction.

Hollywood should think about giving De Palma one of these expensive caped crusader epics; spinning visual webs or leaping from tall buildings are as natural as breathing for the sourpuss showman. He even manages to sneak in his predilection for blood, smearing it on walls and floors, and rupturing pints of it out of an unhappy Connery.

The final flourish was the score. Instead of delivering something subtle, moody and eloquent, Morricone, with typical exuberance, sends the music soaring to cathedral heights, layering it with a pulsing piano, deftly echoing the unstoppable tick-tock of Mamet's script.

These were, after all, the rules of purest escapism. Nothing is to be restrained, nothing bound by any noble quest for revisionism or psychological insight. You want to make The Untouchables? You turn cinema into daft opera. You make the anti-Godfather of gangster movies, grinning all the way to the bank. That's the Chicago way.


Verdict
Superb performances, exquisite direction and that Ennio Morricone score create an authentic 1920s Chicago feel and a hugely entertaining crime drama.


Reviewed by Ian Nathan

Write Your Review
To write your review please login or register.

Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Untouchables
Empire Star Rating

Slick And Classy Cop Thriller

Looking at the abundance of cop thrillers, especially through the 80s and 90s, it's surprising that more filmmakers weren't stopped in their tracks, thinking 'why bother, I won't be able to better The Untouchables'. It didn't stop them from trying though, did it? The untouchables is a brilliantly classy police drama featuring great performances from all central performances, even from Connery as the Irish (yes, Irish) beat walker. The script is tight and well written, and even though sometimes t... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 16:23, 06 April 2013 | Report This Post


A crime classic

This is one of those movies that fires on all cylinders: a terrific screenplay; great performances all round; brilliant music; beautiful costume and production design; smooth editing that allows the scenes to breathe; and exquisite visuals from the always-stylish Brian De Palma, evoking a wonderful comic book feel to the movie. Not to mention the Battleship-Potempkin-referencing train station sequence is one of the greatest shootouts in cinema history. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Mr Gittes at 15:09, 16 February 2013 | Report This Post


Untouchable

After coming out of watching Gangster Squad I had a real urge to go straight home and dig out this gem. I'd forgotten just how good it is, adventure cinema at it's finest. The best trick it pulls is to make you care about the men behind the badges. Amazing score too. There have been some fabulous mobster flicks in recent years, road to perdition and GS spring to mind, but none will ever top this classic. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Jack Ryan at 10:03, 26 January 2013 | Report This Post


Good stuff

Very slow at the beggining, but it made up for that. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by antosh25 at 11:35, 06 December 2011 | Report This Post


The Untouchables is what all action films should strive to be; straightforward, exhilirating and rough-edged ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheNapalmKid at 09:29, 05 October 2009 | Report This Post


The Untouchables is what all action films should strive to be; straightforward, exhilirating and rough-edged ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheNapalmKid at 09:29, 05 October 2009 | Report This Post


One of ma favourites

This is, without a doubt, in my top ten movies of all time. When I watched this for the first time, I thought it was brilliant because of the way the action was done and how the plot is delivered...then I started paying attention to the performances and I realised that there wasn't a single flaw in them. Also, this contains my favourite movie score and the camera work is incredible. This is 100% masterpiece. An utter classic. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by !xHoTRoDx! at 12:21, 21 December 2008 | Report This Post


SPECIAL FEATURE
The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time EMPIRE READERS' POLL: THE 301 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME
You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
Empire's Interstellar Newsstand Cover Has Arrived
Plus a full preview of what you'll find inside our brand new issue

The Future Of Film: British Film Will Thrive (If Tax Breaks Allow)
Or how Harry Potter saved the British film industry, and could again

The Making Of The Lost Pilot: An Oral History
The cast and crew look back at the epic season opener…

Empire's Gone Girl Review
Our official verdict on David Fincher's adaptation of the best-selling novel

The Future Of Film: The Streaming Services Will Be Major Studios
(Or how Hollywood will have to start worrying about Netflix)

The Empire Podcast #129: Liam Neeson Interview
Plus Max Irons, Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Holliday Grainger and Jessica Brown Findlay drop by to talk The Riot Club

The Future Of Film: We'll Be Watching Films In Virtual Reality
Immerse cinema aims to become the must-have experience for the filmgoers of the future

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 6 Issues Of Empire For Only £15!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 6 issues of Empire for just £15!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)