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The Untouchables (1987)

Cast: Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, Robert De Niro, Sean Connery

Director: Brian De Palma

Screenwriter: David Mamet (from a novel by Oscar Fraley, Eliot Ness and Paul Robsky)

Director of photography: Stephen H. Burum

Composer: Ennio Morricone

Price: Rs. 499

What is not to like about this film? The high-octane cast, super-stylistic shot-taking and the smooth-as-silk score all combine to make a film that has classic stamped all over it.

From the first shot of Prohibition's famous gangster, Al Capone, swathed in a towel getting shaved while his underlings just wait around for their god to make a move through the incredible steady-cam shots leading to the explosive violence, the phenomenally powerful baseball pep talk, the celebrated baby carriage sequence to the final showdown on the roof of the courthouse, this film does not make a single wrong move.

Based on the television show about the efforts of a treasury official, Eliot Ness, to bring down the unofficial mayor of Chicago, Capone, David Mamet's script re-images “The Untouchables” into a whole new movie altogether.

Ness teams up with a Jimmy Malone, a tough Irish beat policeman. In a scene reverberating with biblical influences, in a church, the two men sign a blood oath to end Capone's reign. As the police and the politicians are all owned by Capone, Malone suggests going “to the tree to avoid the rotten apples.” They recruit George Stone, a young Italian police academy trainee. The fourth member of the elite squad is Oscar Wallace, an accountant on loan to the treasury department. Wallace has a novel plan to arrest Capone — on his income tax returns.

And so the untouchables (so called because they cannot be bribed) set out to war. The losses are heavy on both sides but Ness manages to put Capone behind the bars.

The movie is an exhilarating ride through the familiar cops and robbers theme delivered with amazing style with top notch performances from the cast and the crew. If Robert De Niro is outstanding for silky, serpentine Capone, Sean Connery is pitch perfect as Jimmy Malone.

The crew excels as well. Brian De Palma sets up scenes with nail-biting tension — the baby carriage sequence on the train steps is a case in point. The scene is an homage to Sergei Eisenstein's Odessa Step sequence in “Battleship Potemkin” (1925). It cranks up tension to unbelievable levels, with De Palma playing all the elements – the gangsters, the mother and her crying baby in the pram and the good guys apart from the usual station people and noises – against each other like a master puppeteer. Incidentally N. Chandra's “Tezaab” (1988) features a similar scene.

The lead up to the savage butchery in elevator scene (elevators are bad places to be in a De Palma film) is an everlasting steady cam shot while the set up to the assassination at Malone's house finds the camera fluidly leaping over walls, windows and doors to reach a bloody climax.

The film got three Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Costume Design and Music while Connery won the academy award for Best Supporting Actor.

Special features include extensive behind the scenes footage where De Palma, Connery, Costner, Garcia, Charles Martin Smith, director of photography Stephen H. Burum, producer Art Linson and visual consultant Patrizia Von Brandenstein talk about the making of the film.

De Palma talks of how he needed to convince De Niro to take the part and also convince the studio to pay for De Niro. There is the revelation that while Armani designed for everyone, Connery decided not to use Armani's services. Also the famous station step sequence was not in the script. Mamet had written the confrontation in a train. By the movie was already so over budget that De Palma improvised to set the scene on the station steps. Burum describes De Palma films as having two key scenes — the creeper sequence (the shootout in Malone's home) and the stakeout sequence (the station step sequence).

This is a movie without a single misstep and even watching it more than 20 years on, it does not fail to thrill.





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