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The Untouchables (2004)

Never stop fighting till the fight is done

Directed by:

Brian De Palma

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 119 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15


Country: United States

With its stellar cast, wonderful 1930s sets and snappy wardrobe, ‘The Untouchables’ is without a doubt one of the better tax evasion-based films you’ll see. Based a little on the 1950s TV series and a little on the novel co-written by the real-life bringer-inner Eliot Ness, it’s the tale of how millionaire Chicago mob-lord Al Capone was finally caught out on a loop-hole. Yup, he was a murderer, an illegal booze smuggler and an all-round bad seed – but, much like a modern-day University student, he was also a dirty stinking tax-dodger.

This lavish period piece from the hit-and-miss Brian De Palma (let’s face it, he’s dropped more than a couple of clangers in his time) pits Kevin Costner’s poker-faced treasury agent Ness against Robert De Niro’s cackling chubster Capone, and in doing so brings us an entertaining and at-times gripping tale that gives us some old fashioned goodies against old fashioned baddies. It really is that simple, but for the most part it’s also extremely effective.

“The Untouchables”, of course, are Ness’ cobbled-together band of crime-fighters, comprising ageing father figure Jim Malone (Sean Connery), police academy sharp-shooter George Stone (Andy Garcia) and bespectacled accountancy nerd Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith). They might not sound like the most intimidating of fellahs, but together their “outsider” status and commitment to the cause make them – for want of a better word – untouchable.

Performance-wise, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Casting the expressionless Costner in the key role of Ness is perhaps a little surprising, as his vacant handling of the part often belies the supposed hard-bitten determination of his character. Garcia and Smith, meanwhile, are faultless in their own jobs, but really have little to do. De Niro – seen here in the days prior to becoming a cringe-inducing self-parody – plays his part to devastating effect, but he’s only on screen for a combined running time of around 20 minutes.

It comes down, then, to being a Sean Connery film. Connery (who, interestingly enough, doesn’t share any scenes with De Niro) picked up an Oscar for his display and it’s tough to see it as anything other than the best of his career. Indeed, the Malone persona is one he seems to have been trying to recapture ever since (as an example, there are definite shades of the character in his later-to-be-seen stint as Indiana Jones’ dad in ‘The Last Crusade’). David Mamet’s screenplay gives him the best lines by a country mile and, aside from the irksome issue of the continued referral to him as “Irish” despite his blatant Scottish accent, they’re delivered with panache.

This isn’t a great film, but it is a very good one. De Palma moves the story at pace through a variety of interesting sets and backdrops, and the eventual resolution of the story is interesting to watch. It has its faults – Costner’s a little out of his depth and I found Enrico Morricone’s acclaimed soundtrack to be both intrusive and inappropriate – but it’s an undeniably entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. Highly recommended.

It's Got: A famous train station scene that fans of 1925’s ‘Battleship Potemkim’ will find familiar – but it’s okay to be honest and admit that what it really reminds you of is the start of the third ‘Naked Gun’ movie.

It Needs: To have gotten its self-assessment forms in on time.

DVD Extras Four brand new featurettes (‘The Script, The Cast’, ‘Production Stories’, ‘Re-Inventing the Genre’), one old one, and a trailer. It’s a decent package but, given that this is supposed to be an all-singing all-dancing special edition, it’s nothing special. DVD Extras Rating: 6/10


When it’s portrayed as enjoyably as this, it’s tough to see how tax inspection ever got its bad name.

One Comment

  1. Daveyf
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    I have only just seen this film for the first time… late i know but having heard all about it thought i was in for a cracker. I have to say I was disappointed. Maybe its because of the gangster movies that have been and gone since, I am thinking immediately of goodfellas, casino etc but it didnt feel that polished. To me it felt hurried and didnt delve deep enough into what Capone really got up to. Robert de Niro is the best in this film by far, i didnt mind Kevin Costner that much either, although i felt like i was watching him play Jim Garrison all over again and i can not understand why Sean Connery won an Oscar. I have never been a big Connery fan but was very disappointed with his performance in the film.
    As I said it all felt a bit rushed, expecially the way Capone’s lawyer switched his plea at the end (which apparently didnt happen, it was a long drawn out trial). I suppose the film smacked of the 1980’s and lacked alot of the polish we have grown accustomed to over the last decade or so but it was just about ok…

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