“1930. Prohibition has transformed Chicago into a City at War. Rival gangs compete for control of the city's billion dollar empire of illegal alcohol, enforcing their will with the hand grenade and tommy gun. It is the time of the Ganglords. It is the time of Al Capone.”It is the time for MEN. The Untouchables is the kind of picture they used to make all the time before the fall of the studio system, and aside from a couple blood squibs and fuck bombs (okay, aside from a lot of blood squibs and fuck bombs), it could have been made in the 40s or 50s. It is, top to bottom, a Hollywood Movie, featuring the finest talent money can buy. And whoa baby is it fucking awesome.
Now, since this my 100th post (or 99th, whichever, do you really give a fuck? I don't really give a fuck) and I'm in a good mood, I'll concede that there are some mildly ridiculous things in The Untouchables; Roger Ebert wasn't on his period when he cracked on the script, performances, and direction. David Mamet, who scripted, is frequently guilty of jerking off to himself, and this is no exception: the language is hugely overblown, several florid shades of purple, and there's an undercurrent of “history is for faggots” at play, since according to Mamet Frank Nitti both is Southern and gets killed (Nitti lived until 1943 IRL, and took over for Capone after Eliot Ness took Capone down) and there are a third as many Untouchables as there were in real life and half of them die (none of them actually did). Also, the whole bit about upholding the law whether or not it makes any sense is something I can't get on board with morally, but, on the other hand, Mamet's script is also fucking great, so na na na na na na.
As for the performances, well . . . as much of a novelty as it is to see Kevin Costner appear smart (his 1986-89 run as coolest motherfucker on the planet notwithstanding, the only other person who ever made him look smart was Ron Shelton) he's still a movie star, not a Serious Actor. Sean Connery's accent in this is widely held to be one of the worst movie accents of all time, even though he's just doing his Sean Connery voice (again, sigh, movie star, not Serious Actor). Overweight Bobbert has his moments, but the problem with every Bobbert performance is every other Bobbert performance: you can never escape that this is the guy who was in Raging Bull and Taxi Driver and Godfather II and Mean Streets (and subsequently Midnight Run and Goodfellas and Heat).
And the direction, well, it's time for an emperor's new clothes moment: Brian De Palma tends to do better whoring himself out to a studio and doing someone else's script. Some of his “own,” (read: more auteur-y) pictures are okay, but his 60s counterculture ones suck, only one of his companion piece voyeur/hooker things from the 80s was good, and his Mars picture was a fucking felony, but his career low was putting a lesbian scene in Femme Fatale that wasn't even hot. It's not like Brian De Palma is a shitty director or anything, but he is extremely erratic and errs on the side of style over substance (which still doesn't explain the crappy lesbian scene . . . Jesus Christ, Brian, with great power comes great responsibility, if the studio lets you do it, DO IT RIGHT GODDAMMIT). Now, The Untouchables is probably De Palma's best movie (the rest of the top 5: Obsession, Carrie, Blow Out, and Scarface), but still he's mostly just whipping his dick out.
That, however, is why The Untouchables is such a fucking badass movie. It's an entire movie that just has its dick out, which is why Pauline Kael liked it. From the opening scene, where we see the press eating out of Al Capone's hand while he has a shave—they don't notice the brick the barber shits when he accidentally nicks Capone, who probably only lets the guy live because there's reporters there—and puts on this “I'm a businessman” act, only to cut to a scene where one of Capone's dudes blows up a bar (and a little girl) because the barkeep won't buy Capone booze, The Untouchables does not fuck around. The word subtlety was razor-bladed out of this movie's dictionary, and Frank Nitti rolled a cigarette with it.
Introduce Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner), a straight-shooting Treasury officer sent on a fool's errand to Chicago to stop Capone. However, he finds himself having to liaise with a police department that's about 98% on Capone's payroll, thus leading to the inconvenient situation wherein Ness decides to raid a Capone warehouse, Capone finds out about it way the hell in advance, and gets all his shit out of there, embarrassing the crap out of Ness all over the front pages (goes to show cultivating a good relationship with the press never hurts).
Humiliated, Ness goes for a walk. He crumples up the newspaper and tosses it in disgust, only to get popped for littering by beat cop Malone (Sean Connery). Since littering is hardly the biggest law-enforcement issue in Chicago at the time, Malone just busts his balls a bit, until he sees Ness is packing heat.
Malone: OK, pal, why the mahaska? Why are you carrying the gun?In spite of the initial antagonism, Malone sympathizes with Ness, and since the two of them are just about the only honest cops for a hundred miles, they bond. Eventually, Ness turns to Malone to help him assemble a team of “untouchables,” uncorrupted cops driven by honor and the genuine desire to do good. Malone, a cynic, resists at first before relenting, but he wants to make absolutely sure Ness knows what he's getting himself into (and, in his warning, represents his set better than any human being ever):
Ness: I'm a treasury officer.
Malone: Alright. Jusht remember what we talked about now.
[Malone walks away]
Ness: Hey, wait a minute! What the hell kind of policemen you got in this god damn city? You just turned your back on an armed man.
Malone: You're a treasury officer.
Ness: How do you know that? I just told you that.
Malone: Who would claim to be that who was not?
“You wanna know how you do it? Here'sh how: they pull a knife, you pull a gun. He shendsh one of yourzh to the hoshpital, you shend one of hizh to the morgue. That'sh the Chicago way . . . and that'sh how you get Capone!”(Ed. Note: one night, the author was watching The Untouchables with two friends from Chicago, and on that line, they nodded and clinked beer bottles. That is all that need be said about that).
The new partners go to the police academy to recruit, under the theory that that's the one place to find a cop Capone isn't bribing yet. Sean Connery asks the instructor to send over his two best marksmen, one of whom is a mumbling stuttering fuck who causes Sean Connery to sigh “There goes the next chief of police,” but the second of whom is Andy Garcia.
Sean Connery: George Shtone, that'sh your name? What'sh your real name?I hadn't seen 8 Million Ways To Die yet at this point, so I had no preparation whatsoever for this nuclear blast of badass Andy Garcia unleashed in this movie. On the sole basis of The Untouchables, Andy Garcia is in the Hall of Fame.
Andy Garcia: That is my real name.
Sean Connery: What wazh it before ye changed it?
Andy Garcia (sighs): Giuseppe Petri.
Sean Connery: Ah, I knew it. All you need is one thieving wop on the team.
Andy Garcia (pissed, but maintaining): What's that?
Sean Connery (pokes Andy Garcia in chest with clipboard): I shed you're a lying member of a no-good raysh.
Andy Garcia (has someone get a wheelbarrow for his balls, pulls heat on Sean Connery): Much better than you, you stinking . . . Irish . . . pig.
Sean Connery (smiles): Oh, I like him. Shun, you jusht joined the Treasury Department.
So the three comrades are getting ready to go raid a Capone warehouse off a tip Sean Connery picked up, and as they're on their way out the door, Charles Martin Smith (an accountant who was sent by the Treasury department as Ness' assistant in an apparent sick joke) walks in with some ledger or other going “Gosh, I don't think Al Capone pays any income tax!” or some such dorkiness.
Sean Connery: You carry a badge?And the Untouchables are complete. Charles Martin Smith shows surprising balls and rather enjoys big swinging dick police work (“It's much more diverting than accounting!”) Our heroes hit Capone, who grows displeased, and being a psychopath with terminal syphilis, Capone's displeasure manifests itself in dudes having their fucking heads caved in with baseball bats, and purple shit coming out.
Charles Martin Smith: Yeah?
Sean Connery (hands him a shotgun): Carry a gun.
Our boys fend off bribes from corrupt politicians who want them to leave poor Al alone, and press on with the investigation. They get wind of a huge shipment of booze coming in from Canada and go up to take it down. The blowhard Mounties fuck the whole thing up, and it turns into a firefight, where Charles Martin Smith gets to kill a couple guys (and, in a crowd-pleasing moment, does a shot of the bootleg whiskey out of a bulletholed barrel after offing the last one) and Ness does too, only he finds it less of an adventure than Charles Martin Smith does. Connery gives him the boilerplate movie “you or him” speech, and, slightly mollified, Ness heads inside to interrogate this one guy Sean Connery took alive. The guy isn't giving anything up, so Sean Connery improvises a bit of theater, taking the guy Ness killed, and holding him up, making it look like he's still alive and resisting interrogation. Sean Connery blows the corpse's head off (a little extreme, but nonetheless pretty cool) and the prisoner shits himself and starts blabbing about everything. On the way out:
Blowhard Mountie: Mr. Ness! I do not approve of your methods.Man, this movie makes me wish I was. Anyway, having turned the prisoner, they bring him back to Chicago to snitch on Capone, only Frank Nitti disguises himself as an elevator operator and gets the guy alone with Charles Martin Smith. Thus perishes one of the coolest nerds in cinema.
Ness: Yeah? Well, you're not from Chicago.
Sean Connery tells Ness to stall the DA for a little bit (the case having hinged on the guy who died), and goes to talk to his old high-ranking cop buddy (whom he apparently met at the Bad Irish Accents Club), which devolves into a fistfight, which concludes with the cop buddy telling Sean Connery about Capone's main bookkeeper, who can make their whole case.
While Ness and Andy Garcia are off stalling the DA, Sean Connery goes home, has himself a shot of bootleg booze (naughty, naughty Sean . . .) and then finds out that all the POV camerawork is because a scared lookin' dude broke into his house with a knife.
Sean Connery, not realizing that these are about to be his last words, nonetheless comes up with one last badass/racist epigram:
“Trusht a wop to bring a knife to a gunfight.”Sean Connery pulls heat and chases the fucker out of his apartment . . . but there's Frank Nitti with a tommy gun. Sean Connery gets lit the fuggup. He staggers back into his apartment, dying operatically (intercut with Bobbert taking in Pagliacci at the opera house, because remember, subtlety is for homosexuals), dragging himself down the hall to his sitting room, where he has the evidence he needs to give to Ness . . .
So Ness shows up, and Sean Connery, still dying, still noshing on scenery, gives him the intel about where the accountant's coming in, as well as his St. Jude's medal, and, at the perfectly calibrated moment for maximum emotional impact (Ed. Note: this scene and the end of Field of Dreams are two of the only known instances when it's okay for heterosexual men to cry) Sean Connery shuffles off thish mortal coil.
A new, improved “I don't give a fuck” Kevin Costner rolls with Andy Garcia to the train station to meet the accountant. They, of course, know that Capone dudes are going to be there, so they know shit has a 98% chance of going down. But there's a woman with a baby carriage. Costner can't help it, he's a straight arrow, he has to help the poor woman get her baby carriage up the stairs. Terrible timing, though: that's exactly when the accountant comes through, and armed Capone dudes materialize from everywhere. Costner has to let the carriage go to blast a motherfucker with his shotgun, and the carriage goes thunking down the stairs . . . maybe it's just me, but I could have sworn I saw that in another movie . . . nah, Brian De Palma never steals shit from other movies, I must have been high.
Anyway, a sweet slow-motion shootout ensues as the carriage thunks down the stairs. At the very last minute, Andy Garcia ex machina slides in to a) stop the carriage with his foot, b) take aim on the last surviving Capone dude holding the bookkeeper hostage, and c) toss a spare piece to Costner. As the ensuing standoff develops, and the Capone dude starts nervously monologuing about how he plans to leave with the bookkeeper, Costner asks Andy Garcia, “You got him?”
Andy Garcia practically fucking yawns as he says, “Yeah, I got him.” In that moment, Andy Garcia makes any argument about him not being one of the coolest motherfuckers of all time completely null and void. This is no longer a matter for debate. Infidels shall be put to the sword. When Andy Garcia puts a bullet through the Capone dude's open mouth mid-monologue, that is but the grace note concluding the symphony of badass.
The trial is a zoo. In spite of the fact that the good guys have an ironclad case against Capone, Capone has an ironclad bribe infrastructure. The level of confidence in the Capone camp is such that Nitti openly swaggers into court with a gun hanging out of his jacket to whisper in his master's ear. Costner gets pissed and has the bailiff escort Nitti out into the lobby, where Costner frisks him and starts up a round of cop vs. scumbag, until he finds a signed note from the mayor permitting Nitti to carry the gun. Costner, frustrated, demands that Nitti not be allowed back in the courtroom, and goes to light a frustrated cigarette with Nitti's matches . . . which have Sean Connery's address written inside. Costner knows. Nitti realizes, whoops, I just got made as a cop killer; he busts a couple shots into the bailiff and takes off.
Costner chases Nitti up on rooftops, eventually cornering Nitti as he dangles from a rope. Nitti taunts Costner: “Arrest me! Arrest me!” Costner pulls Nitti back up onto the roof, and begins the process of arresting Nitti. But Nitti can't resist the urge to talk a little more shit.
Nitti: Your friend died like a pig.Oh, man. I miss the days when Kevin Costner was cool. He was pretty fuckin all right for a few years there. So, Nitti having been dispensed with (he crunches rather indelicately on a parked car), Costner heads back inside, where Andy Garcia has some evidence that Capone's bought the jury. Then, noticing something awry:
Costner: Excuse me?
Nitti: Your friend died screaming like a stuck Irish pig. Now you think about that while I beat the rap.
[Costner grabs Nitti and throws him off the fucking roof. Nitti falls through the air, screaming]
Costner: He sound anything like that?
Andy Garcia: Where's Nitti?Now that right there is dialogue, by God. David Mamet can be kind of ridiculous sometimes, but he can hang his hat on that line (and, from Heist, Danny De Vito's immortal “Everyone wants money. That's why they call it money.”)
Kevin Costner: He's in the car.
Costner goes into the judge's chambers with Capone's list of bribed jurors, and convinces the judge to switch the juries. Capone's lawyer panics and changes Capone's plea to guilty. Boo ya. See ya later, Al! Costner's metamorphosis into man of testicles complete, he swaggers up to Capone and talks shit while twelve dudes hold Capone back from kicking his ass (well . . . maybe it isn't that complete, but hey, even talking shit to Al Capone under those circumstances takes some balls).
So Costner closes up shop, bequeaths Sean Connery's St. Jude's medal to Andy Garcia, and goes home to his wife. An earnest reporter, who's been popping up here and there throughout the movie, runs into Costner on his way home and says to him, they're thinking about repealing Prohibition, what'll you do then? And Kevin Costner gives us a classic last line:
“I think I'll have a drink.”Ah, man. What a fuckin' movie. Sure, it's got nothing to do with reality, sure it's style over substance (score by Ennio fuckin Morricone, costumes by Giorgio fuckin Armani, that's some style that'll win out over most substance), sure it all ties up a little neatly. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the fucking point. It's a movie meant to be enjoyed, rather than nitpicked to death, so you can nitpick if you want to, but just know, the rest of us will be over here having fun.
* * * *
Postscript: since this is (or isn't) the 100th post, let's take a look back at some of the highlights of the brief but fun history of this-a-here blog:
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Paul Verhoeven (and parts 2 and 3)
The Evil White Guys In Suits Theory
Tango & Cash
Anything you like that I forgot to mention? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading! I hope you're having as much fun with this as I am.