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The Untouchables




The Untouchables 


1987. Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, Sean Connery; dir. Brian De Palma. 119m. (R) Hi St cc V $89.95. B $29.95. LV St $34.95. 

Paramount. Image: good. 


"When he pulls a knife, you pull a gun," advises policeman Jimmy Malone (Connery) in The Untouchables. "When he sends your man to the hospital, you send his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way." The brutal era of gang warfare that defined the Windy City in fact and fiction during the 1920s provides the background for this bigscreen update of the '60s TV series. While the movie is engrossing and well-made, its  morality is deplorable. 


De Palma and screenwriter David Mamet have taken real-life hero Eliot Ness and turned him into a pantywaist. The real Ness was an agent sent to Chicago by the Treasury Department to clean up AI Capone's bootlegging operation, which had been winked at by local authorities on the

.take. Ness' team became known as the Untouchables because they couldn't be bought and worked aggressively to enforce the law. 



In the TV film, The Scarface Mob, and the subsequent hit series, Robert Stack played Ness as a no-nonsense he-man, solid, savvy and cynical, an avenging angel for the public good. The film makes Ness (Costner) a young and idealistic family man and turns The Untouchables into a kind of perverted Star Wars, with Sean Connery as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ness as Luke Skywalker. 


Malone-teacher, father and soul of the team-is a 20-year veteran cop who has given up on fighting the corruption around him but sees a new opportunity in Ness. Playing on his well-known reputation for integrity, the actor is terrifically moving (and amusing) as a vulnerable, tough and fascinatingly complex figure. He is the heart of the movie, which aims for epic status from the first shot-a striking overhead view of Capone (De Niro) holdingcourt as he is being shaved-to one of the last-a man plummeting from the top of a building.


Cinematic flamboyance is Brian De dr Palma's signature. The director uses dozens of impressive movie tricks-pans, tracking shots, slow motion-with the cold GI efficiency of a brilliant film student. But it's inl as hollow as Costner's Ness, and the technique is nothing more than a glossy cover for a dirty book. The message-the ends tit justify the means-is more than objection- vi, able, it completely undercuts the actual ur heroism of the Untouchables and is itself  undercut by the reality of what happened to ill; Capone. In the end, he was thwarted by the ca law, not in spite of it, jailed for non-payment of income tax. 

VIDEO, June 1988