Film Review: The Untouchables (1987)

Release Date: June 2nd, 1987 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: David Mamet
Based on: The Untouchables by Eliot Ness, Oscar Fraley
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, Robert De Niro, Sean Connery, Billy Drago, Patricia Clarkson, Brad Sullivan, Clifton James (uncredited)

Paramount Pictures, 119 Minutes

Review:

“You just fulfilled the first rule of law enforcement: make sure when your shift is over you go home alive. Here endeth the lesson.” – Malone

While this isn’t one of my favorite Brian De Palma movies, it was one of my favorite mob movies back when I was a teenager. As a De Palma picture, though, it’s stylistically very different than his other films, especially those that came before it.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I still love the hell out of this movie.

The Untouchables is full of great actors giving solid performances and telling a really compelling and tragic story, as many of the heroes die very violently while trying to bring one of America’s most violent criminals to justice.

This is a balls out, unapologetic movie that doesn’t shy away from some onscreen carnage and while that’s what made me think this was cool as a teen, it’s actually what makes it so effective and real.

Granted, Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Al Capone is inaccurate, as the real man wasn’t as publicly careless as he appears to be in the film. That’s not De Niro’s fault, that’s the script’s fault but at the same time, I don’t mind it, as it is used artistically to convey who Capone was beyond the public facade.

I love the camaraderie between the four heroes in this film, as they all felt truly chummy and it transcended the picture and made their sacrifices come across as even more genuine. You feel it in your gut when Sean Connery is gunned down and it doesn’t really matter how many times one has seen this picture.

The real standout in the cast to me is Billy Drago, who plays Frank Nitti, the sadistic and blatantly evil henchman of Capone. Drago has been a favorite actor of mine since he played the villain, John Bly, in the grossly underappreciated television series The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Since then, I’ve taken note of everything Drago has been in but then, he’s really hard to miss. Drago takes control of every scene he’s ever been in and can convey chilling villainy like no other actor. That being said, this is probably his greatest and most prolific role.

The movie also has a really unique score, composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone. Even for Morricone, it’s a strange soundtrack while also still sounding like his patented style. I like that this movie allowed Morricone to experiment in a way that he couldn’t when he was doing spaghetti westerns and Italian dramas.

The Untouchables holds up pretty well. It’s not a run of the mill, typical gangster picture. It certainly feels like it’s own thing and I feel like that’s why it still stands out, years later. While I can’t consider it as great as De Palma’s Scarface, Coppola’s Godfather movies or Scorsese’s Goodfellas, it’s still in the upper echelon of the genre.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Brian De Palma crime films, as well as other Robert De Niro starring crime flicks.

Film Review: Slap Shot (1977)

Release Date: February 25th, 1977
Directed by: George Roy Hill
Written by: Nancy Dowd
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Paul Newman, Strother Martin, Michael Ontkean, Jennifer Warren, Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson, David Hanson, Melinda Dillon, Brad Sullivan

Pan Arts, Kings Road Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 123 Minutes 

slap_shotReview:

It’s almost the 40th anniversary of Slap Shot, so why not revisit it?

Slap Shot is what I consider to be the greatest hockey film of all-time. No, it is not a Disney family movie and it is crude, violent and often times profane. However it is also lovable, approachable and pretty much timeless. It also embodies the spirit of manliness and old school small town hockey unlike any other film. Albeit the more modern Goon has become a pretty close second.

This film has two great things going for it. First, it has Paul Newman in the lead role as an aging hockey player/coach that loves his team and his teammates as much as he loves the sport that pays his bills. Second, it has the violent iconic trio known as the Hanson Brothers, who are willing to take out any obstacle and pummel any opponent that gets in their way. The other characters are also equally awesome in their own ways and to be honest, this is the most entertaining sports team ever assembled on film.

The movie follows the Charlestown Chiefs, as they watch their town crumble after the closing of the local factory and the news that they are being sold and disbanded following the season. It is also a fight against the system and a fight for the sake of fighting in a world becoming neutered by political correctness. Additionally, it brings a bit of 70s era commentary on the aftermath of the free love movement and societal fears of homosexuality. It is a much more politically and socially conscious film than what it appears to be on the surface.

Slap Shot is also unique in the fact that this testosterone-fueled cinematic romp was written by a woman, Nancy Dowd. While that may seem odd, especially for the time, she did a more than spectacular job of capturing the essence of hockey and the thought process of manly men in a world changing around them. Dowd went on the be a writer for Saturday Night Live during its heyday. She also wrote several screenplays throughout the 70s and 80s – most notably Coming Home. She was also an uncredited contributor to the scripts of North Dallas Forty, Ordinary People and Cloak & Dagger.

The director of the film was George Roy Hill who won multiple Oscars throughout his career. His best-known pictures were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Great Waldo Pepper, A Little Romance and Thoroughly Modern Millie. He also did the critically-panned Chevy Chase film Funny Farm. Not really being nominated for anything for his work on Slap Shot, I feel like Hill got snubbed. While it wasn’t necessarily a “picture of the year” sort of movie, it has gone on to become much larger than a run of the mill cult classic.

Slap Shot is a glorious film representing a bygone era for the sport it is based on, as well as the culture of that time. Its message still rings true today and if anything, the underlying political and social current of the film still feels authentic and honest. Often times, comedy can make a point and hit a mark much more effectively than a dramatization. And despite all of that, it is still a thoroughly entertaining movie and a classic sports comedy unlike any other. Slap Shot is a unique gem of a film.

Rating: 9/10