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The Chicago way The Chicago way
by Asa Butcher
Issue 4
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Film
The Untouchables
Brian De Palma
1987
“He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send on of his to the morgue! That’s the Chicago way, and that's how you get Capone!” Sean Connery delivers one of the best lines of the film that also sums up the gritty 1930’s Chicago atmosphere. The Untouchables is a gangster movie from the side of the law enforcers and the good guys win – well, half of them.

Connery, in a role that doesn’t make me hate him, stars alongside Kevin Costner, Andy Garcia and Charles Martin Smith as the team of Untouchables that come together to bring the bootlegging, murderous, psychopathic Alfonso Capone, brilliantly portrayed by Robert De Niro, to justice.

From the explosion killing the innocent young girl to the courtroom finale, the film is packed with drama, suspense, humour and camaraderie, even Mr. James Bond dies. De Palma’s direction drives the film at a pace that never bores, the editing is brilliant and the score is a delight.

The piece de résistance is De Palma’s homage to the Odessa Steps sequence in Sergei M. Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, otherwise known as the railway station steps scene. Together with the editors, Jerry Greenberg and Bill Pankow, De Palma has created a mini masterpiece that requires repeated viewings. The scene is beautifully choreographed, the slow motion shots are incredible, and the score adds another dimension, before the final words, “Take him – BANG!” give it one hell of a full stop.

The quiet-spoken Kevin Costner almost manages to convince in the tough scenes, but you just can’t truly believe it sometimes and there is too much of his family life, while Andy Garcia plays a sharp-shooting cool rookie cop in one of his first movie roles. However, it is Charles Martin Smith, not the archetypal action hero, who manages to steal the Canadian border scene with his “You bastards!”

Sean Connery is excellent as the Irish beat cop turned Untouchable, with his words of wisdom, alternative tactics at persuading suspects to talk and terrible accent, he made the role his own and thoroughly deserved his Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He has never been one of my favourite actors and he always seemed to play the same role repeatedly, but he brings uniqueness to this role. Naturally, for his death scene, it had to dramatic, heroic and strung out – he doesn’t die squealing like an Irish pig.

The film is set during the Prohibition period of the 1930s and Capone is the centre of attention. De Niro’s depiction of the crime boss is a role he was born for, although it is a shame that he doesn’t appear in the movie more. His few scenes, such as the one with the interaction between a baseball bat and a skull, really capture the brutality of the period in a manner only he can portray.

Thanks should also go to the Art Director and Set Decoration team for they have reproduced an authentic Chicago complete with period vehicles, Tommy guns, grimy buildings and plenty of those flashbulb cameras going off, for which they received an Academy Award nomination. Giorgio Armani is credited with supplying the wardrobe, but it is Marilyn Vance’s costume design that deserved the Oscar; she even made Costner look cool in a Fedora.

One other under-used actor is Capone’s assassin, the one who looks like David Bowie in a white suit. Billy Drago’s Frank Nitti is responsible for the bomb that kills the little girl in the diner and every moment that follows chills your blood; he has one of the menacing faces I have seen for a long time.

Earlier I mentioned the music that accompanied the railway station steps scene, but Ennio Morricone’s score throughout the film is excellent; he even received an Academy Award nomination for it. His music is the proverbial ‘icing on the cake’ for a film that compliments each component. The Untouchables is a great way to immerse yourself in 1930’s Chicago for two hours – just remember not to take a knife to a gun fight.

   
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