The Costner film-of-the-week was The Untouchables, directed by Brian De Palma. That might mean something to you, and it might not, but as directors go, he’s a pretty good one. As far as I can tell this film was the linchpin in Kevin Costner’s successful movie career. He hadn’t really been much of a leading man before it was released in 1987, but after going toe-to-toe with James Bond and Vito Corleone it was clear that he had established himself enough to begin headlining his acting roles from there on out. The following year he would star in Bull Durham, and the year after that was when he did Field of Dreams.
Side note of the week: I’ve had a few requests/inquiries on Bull Durham, so I decided to blitzkrieg my way through it this week as well, and I’ve decided that, after having written an entire review on Field of Dreams which relates baseball to church, there is no way I can write a review on Bull Durham which, holy mackerel Andy, is a movie that relates baseball to sex!
What I found most interesting about The Untouchables is its place in the larger legend surrounding Prohibition era Chicago, Al Capone, and Eliot Ness. Back in 1957, just months before his memoirs were published, Ness died in relative obscurity, never seeing how popular his stories would become as they reverberated through the next 60 years in various forms. The book that Ness wrote was finished by a co-author who added a considerable amount of fictionalized material in order to make it more intriguing and entertaining. Because Ness wasn’t around to comment on (or refute) any of it, and because the book went on to sell over a million copies, eventually spawning two separate television adaptations, comic books, detective novels, cartoons, and this Costner film—the truth of what actually happened between the Federal Agent and the Notorious Gangster has gotten so woven together with the legend that it’s a futile endeavor to try unravelling them completely. The result is that we have been left with a good, old fashioned, morality tale about how a small team of outsider good guys takes down a powerful crime syndicate. It’s the Seven Samurai, it’s the Magnificent Seven, it’s the A-Team… it’s Frodo, Samwise, Meriadoc, and Peregrin; it’s Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael.
In De Palma’s iteration of the tale it’s the Federal Agent, the Nerdy Accountant, the Veteran City Cop, and the Skilled Rookie – played by a young Andy Garcia. The City Cop, Jim Malone is the anchor of the group, the standout performance, and it won Sean Connery his only, yet well deserved, Academy Award for the role. Something also has to be said about De Niro’s rather amazing performance as Al Capone. He plays the character like he was born to do so, unleashing his full range of bravado in only a few scenes, and yet it’s enough to make it feel as if he’s looming in the background of the entire movie. He’s fearless, foul, and full of himself in all the best ways.
With all that said, there’s no really deep metaphor here, nothing too terribly profound after digging around in the plot for awhile—at least I don’t think there is. And there doesn’t have to be. It’s a solid presentation of good guys versus bad guys, cops versus robbers, Costner versus Capone. Yet even so, there’s one really great gem that can be mined from the excavation of this film—the way it tells the story of the team coming together. Each member of the team is completely different, each one is inadequate by themselves, each one needs the others in order to overcome their own flaws and defeat their sworn enemy. It’s ironic, but also a stroke of genius, that it’s Capone who provides commentary on this during one of the film’s most memorable scenes…
“What is that which gives me joy? Baseball! A man stands alone at the plate. This is the time for what? For individual achievement. There he stands alone. But in the field, what? Part of a team. Teamwork… Looks, throws, catches, hustles. Part of one big team. Bats himself the live-long day, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and so on. If his team don’t field… what is he? You follow me? No one. Sunny day, the stands are full of fans. What does he have to say? I’m goin’ out there for myself. But… I get nowhere unless the team wins.”
And now we’re back to baseball again.