Having decided he was done making Psycho (until Raising Cain at least), Brian De Palma turned to crime (filming it rather than committing it) in the 1980s, directing Al Pacino in Scarface and then Robert De Niro in The Untouchables.
Adapted from the classic TV show, The Untouchables dramatises Eliot Ness’ (Kevin Costner) efforts to bring down prohibition-era gangster Al Capone (De Niro). The untouchable talent includes screenwriter David Mamet, composer Ennio Morricone and costumer Giorgio Armani, with Patricia Clarkson as the movie’s only female character, credited solely as “Ness’ wife”.
Essentially an urban Western, The Untouchables concerns the failure of big government, the rise of lawlessness and the heroism of the sheriff, embodied by Costner’s breakout all-American hero role. Sean Connery earns his sole Oscar despite the inability to do an Irish accent, and De Niro steals the show as Capone, on whom Donald Trump appears to have based his speaking style.
De Palma’s transition from histrionics to historyonics is surprisingly smooth, bringing his signature style and cinematic worship to striking set pieces, most notably the station staircase sequence based on Battleship Potemkin‘s famous Odessa steps. In skilfully handling these action scenes, he proves himself the unlikely heir to another TV series turned blockbuster movie, Mission: Impossible.
This is a good old-fashioned tale of heroes and villains, classy, action-packed and brilliantly acted. Incidentally Bob Hoskins was originally cast as Capone then paid £20,000 when De Niro took over, prompting him to tell De Palma: “If you’ve ever got any films you don’t want me in, give me a call!”