The Untouchables (1987)

Director:  Brian De Palma 220px-UntouchablesThe

Synopsis:  Set in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, The Untouchables is a movie dealing with a group of federal agents tasked with taking on Al Capone’s criminal organization in Chicago.  The syndicate made most of its money through the illegal manufacture, transport and sale of liquor.  The film’s primary character and leader of the Chicago division of the Bureau of Prohibition is Elliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner.

With the help of Chicago Cop turned Untouchable, Jimmy Malone (played by Sean Connery), the agents walk across the street from the police station and into the U.S. Post Office where Malone reveals the secret that every cop in town already knew; that Capone’s bribes were even able to buy silence within a Federal building.  After busting down the door, the massive operation of moving crates of whiskey is revealed.  The bust finally hurt Capone financially, enough that he tried to bribe Ness himself.  Rather than accept or merely deny the bribe, Ness publicly revealed the attempt, earning the band of trustworthy men the title The Untouchables.

The Untouchables continue taking the battle to Capone, and Capone responds with violence.  Men on both sides are killed, but in the end, The Untouchables get their man; just not in the way they thought.  Ultimately, Capone was tried for income tax evasion, thanks to the good work of bookkeeper turned Untouchable Oscar Wallace, played by Charles Martin Smith.  After the trial began Wallace was killed and Capone’s bribing of the jury was discovered, prompting the judge to switch the juries with another criminal case being heard in a different courtroom.  The climactic end came with Capone’s attorney changing his client’s plea to guilty and Elliot Ness leaning in and having the last word just before an infuriated Capone is forcibly taken out of the courtroom.

The Untouchables was a very entertaining movie that was able to capture the flavor of the period which it depicts.  Although it was quite cavalier with actual facts surrounding the real Elliot Ness, the men known as the Untouchables and their pursuit of Al Capone’s criminal syndicate, the movie does a great job of taking the essence of the totality of the circumstances (Prohibition, police corruption, organized crime) and wrapping them all into a neatly bound and entertaining package.  The posh lifestyle of Capone is juxtaposed against the white knight that is Elliot Ness, and the gritty circumstances he and his men, particularly Malone, lived in.  The movie also depicted the interesting duality within apparently good men, some would say hypocrisy, by showing both Malone and Wallace consuming alcohol despite being tasked with the burden of eradicating it.  In the end, the movie is about tenacity and never giving up, no matter what challenges you face, when you know your fight is right.  Ness proved that throughout the movie and all of the diversity he faced, even losing friends and colleagues in the process, because in the end, Ness got his man.

Brian De Palma has directed a number of films that are of a similar variety as The Untouchables.  His movie Scarface staring Al Pacino has many similarities with The Untouchables, only the primary character in Scarface is the Al Capone rather than the G-man chasing him.  The movie Wise Guys, like The Untouchables, is more than just loosely based on reality, but like the entirely fictional Scarface, deals with the inner workings of the criminal organization rather than the law enforcement agents seeking to take them down.  Although I was in law enforcement myself, I find that De Palma is far more capable of making the better movie from the criminal point-of-view rather than the law enforcement point-of-view.  I enjoyed all three of the above movies, but the true grit is found in Scarface and Wise Guys, where The Untouchables comes across as white picket fences by comparison.

 

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