Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring||Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, Robert De Niro|
|Director||Brian De Palma|
In this fictionalized and graphic retelling of the conflict between Al Capone and Eliot Ness, Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Ness (gentlemanly and restrained, yet totally dedicated to his cause) recalls that of Robert Stack in the 1959-63 TV series, and a beefed-up Robert De Niro is perfect as Capone.
The setting is Chicago during Prohibition. The opening scene of Capone telling reporters that he doesn’t use violence to shut down rival bootleggers is followed by a scene of his men doing just that, and killing a little girl and other innocent bystanders in the process. Enter Treasury officer Ness and a hand-picked strike force that cannot be frightened or bribed—hence their nickname “Untouchables.” Some great liberties are taken with history, but the broad overview of the story is accurate.
Most of the Italians in the film are gangsters, and most of the Irish are cops who are either paid off by or are indifferent to the activities of the gangsters; but Ness’ strike force includes two honest cops, one Irish (Oscar-winning performance by Sean Connery) and one Italian (Andy Garcia). The profanity is extreme, and there’s a lot of ethnic slurring. In addition to bullets-thudding-into-flesh special effects, the violence includes splattered brains, a man thrown from a roof and crashing into a parked vehicle, and a baby carriage rolling downstairs in the middle of a gunfight. In order to put Capone away, Ness feels compelled to break a few laws himself. Many of the police and even some of the Untouchables drink illegal liquor (strictly speaking, the Eighteenth Amendment only prohibited manufacture, importation and distribution, not drinking).
Historical note: In the 19th century, some corrupt city bosses “owned” gangs and used them to do their dirty work. But Prohibition and the Controlled Substances Act made the gangs so rich that eventually they were the ones who “owned” the city governments. On subjects such as alcohol abuse and other addictive behavior, the Bible places more responsibility on the buyer than on the seller. Anglo-America once held that same view, and much of Latin America still does. That’s why the U.S. alienates its neighbors to the south when it tries to force them to shut down drug production; from their perspective, the real problem lies with the U.S. raising irresponsible teens who want to use drugs. The economics are simple: if there were no demand for an item, production would stop. I’m NOT arguing for the legalization of dangerous drugs; that would be a disaster at this point. I’m just noting that there’ll always be a problem until people’s hearts are changed so they no longer spend their money on things that don’t satisfy (Isaiah 55:1-3).