Classic Films I’ve Only Just Got Round To Seeing #1: ‘The Untouchables’

For this, the first in a poorly-titled series, I finally caught Brian De Palma’s classic crime drama The Untouchables last night.  It’s a brilliant, confident, astute piece of filmmaking. Here’s my thoughts, in handy numbered form.

  1. Fantastic casting throughout. De Niro as Capone = genius casting, and an incredible performance.  He embodies the crime lord so completely, yet still somehow managing to bring something new to gangster acting.  Sean Connery is the classic father figure, and does a decent job, although his pisspoor Irish accent makes the Oscar a little surprising.  Hell, even Kevin ‘Waterworld’ Costner is good, a solid lead.
  2. Brian De Palma’s camerawork is legendary. The director’s lens is like another actor in this film.  His use of the steadicam is legendary, but it’s his little touches which impress – he uses POV like a horror film to create tension.  Which leads me onto:
  3. It’s suspenseful as hell. You can tell De Palma is a Hitchcock fan; his influence is everywhere.  The showdown scenes are terrifically epic, and the famous scene on the stairway in the train station is an extraordinary slow-mo mesh of editing.  Which also leads me onto…
  4. I now get the parodies. Just like I didn’t quite get the Simpsons Halloween spoof until I got round to seeing The Shining, watching this film has opened up a world of references to me.  Admitting this on Twitter had me justifiably lambasted:
  5. It’s classical Hollywood. Despite De Palma’s nifty camera moves, this is old-school filmmaking, with elements of the noirish crime thrillers found in the pre-Hayes code era of the forties.  And with that comes the occasional cliché – one of the main characters dies, spluttering blood from his gunshot wounds, in Costner’s trembling arms, like a classic war movie death.  It’s either brilliant or laughably unoriginal.  I can’t decide which.
  6. It’s a bit dated. I was born in the year The Untouchables was made.  And although it is a period piece, and displays admirable attention to detail, viewing twenty four years on means it sometimes slips up – the music occasionally dips into bizarre, jarring synthesisers melded with jazzy horns which was probably a great idea at the time.  And there is the odd eighties haircut.
  7. It reminds you of the time when Brian De Palma made great films. A cursory glance at the man’s Wikipedia page shows he hasn’t really made a decent film since 1996’s Mission: Imposssible, and even that’s up for debate.  What happened, Brian? Marty, Steve and George are doing fine!  Well, Marty and Steve, anyway.  Here’s hoping the Capone-centered prequel gets made.
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