Movie Blind Spots: The Untouchables

UntouchablesThe

Up until last Saturday afternoon I had never seen ‘The Untouchables’. It was a significant absence from the gangster movies of the eighties and nineties that I’d seen, the Godfather trilogy, ‘Donnie Brasco’, ‘Scarface’,  ‘Carlito’s Way’, ‘Casino’ and ‘Goodfellas’. For a working class lad watching these films were rites of passage. Everybody had the black and white ‘Scarface’ poster on their bedroom walls, we all did Joe Pesci impressions and when out on the town we strutted around looking for Michelle Pfeiffer and that white gold.

One of the first things that grabbed my attention was how the violence in ‘The Untouchables’ seemed cartoonish and unreal compared to say what we’ve seen in recent years in HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’. There was just something unreal about the way the bodies fell, particularly in the unintentionally cringey finale as Eliot Ness tries to stop a pram falling down a flight of stairs in the middle of a shootout.

I don’t know something else seemed amiss as the minutes ticked by, the performances seem out of sync, from what I’d heard about the movie De Niro is superb, but looking at his career as a whole just off his peak. What I saw was De Niro as fat and satisfied and not in the method sense of packing on pounds for dramatic effect. He presents Al Capone like Danny De Vito as The Penguin. He’s a villain in a superhero movie, grandiose, incompetent and over the top. Costner is a bit empty, De Palma seems in love with his face and Costner just doesn’t seem all that moved emotionally, even when his family are at risk from mob reprisals. Contrast this to the charismatic performances from Sean Connery as Jimmy Malone, the comedy of Charles Martin Smith and the electricity of Andy Garcia. The headliners bluff and blunder whilst the supporting cast are mind-blowing.

‘The Untouchables’ is comic book take on the myth of Eliot Ness. This is a film with hardly any grey areas during a time that was one giant grey area. Despite the law and justice system being corrupt and everything being morally ambiguous ‘The Untouchables’ basically boils down to goodies vs. baddies, Ness vs. Capone.

I don’t want to beat a classic movie down, because it’s a fun, engrossing watch, and the film looks great. The costumes, the locations (particularly the border scene) but the film’s biggest flaw is that it seems to add authentic grit. Costner’s Ness is a damp squib of a man, a square. He almost resembles Josh Brolin’s character in ‘Gangster Squad’, a pale descendent of ‘The Untouchables’. Is that the legacy of the movie, that it spawned such poor imitations? ‘The Untouchables’ perhaps hasn’t aged well, or maybe I’ve fallen out of love with the Gangster movie genre.

– RJW

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Six Stages of Hell – ‘The Stars Collection’ Part 3: Al’s Lads (2002)

als lads

Directed by: Richard Standeven

Halfway through ‘The Stars Collection’, and I haven’t felt this fatigued since I pulled a hammy climbing Beeston Bump three summers ago. I can’t say that the films I’ve sat through thus far have been woeful, but they’ve been tiring to watch. There’s something to be said for two films containing ample amounts of stodgy dialogue and plodding scenes that lead up to moderately expensive yet completely unnecessary action sequences, in that they set-up a point of interest for the viewer, yet retaining that interest is where these films struggle.

I hope things get better…

Grizzly dark violence, a back alley throat slitting, not too far removed from ‘Boardwalk Empire’ leads into a shot of the Titanic…. no wait; this is another luxury cruise liner. Great, I think to myself, this film is going to be stuck on a bloody boat. On board we discover that the crew are a merry bunch of Scousers. By day they serve the wealthy travellers, by night they nick booze from the kitchen stock room and fight bare knuckle boxing contests.

Three of the lads – Jimmy (Marc Warren), Dan (Ralf Little) and Eddy (Stephen Lord) plan, when the liner docks in the States, to make a new life for themselves in Texas. With a stash of gin bottles they attempt to con a couple of sharply dressed Yanks. The two men, who moonlight as streetwise gangsters, outsmart the lost Englishmen, and talk them into a bare knuckle boxing contest. Jimmy, the slugger of the trio, is up for a scrap.

I think Marc Warren deserves some praise for his wiry performance as Jimmy, although at times it is distracting that his boxing storyline runs parallel to Eddy and Dan’s comedy double act, he plays with aplomb a believable gutsy fighter who lives with the whole world on his shoulders.

The fights scenes in the film are surprisingly realistic, though we’re not getting the poetic drama in-ring drama of ‘Raging Bull’, or the attention to detail of ‘The Fighter’, there is battling grittiness shared with movies that have featured bare knuckle contests such as ‘Fight Club’ or ‘Snatch’, where each punch can almost be felt through the screen.

The action shifts to Chicago; where after impressing Georgio, the lead gangster, Jimmy is groomed as a fighter under the tutelage of a wise man named Boom Boom played by Richard ‘Shaft’ Roundtree, operating here in the Morgan Freeman role (Hollywood’s equivalent to the Makelele role?); whilst Eddy and Dan scrub factory floors and carry out delivery jobs for a grey haired fella named Birch.

It is in Chicago that the lads figure out they’re working on the lowest rungs of Al Capone’s pay ladder. Jimmy is set up to take a dive in a high profile championship fight with a boxer named Sammy Cruz, Eddie and Dan realize that the heavy wardrobes they’ve been shifting around town contain dead bodies. As danger circles, the lads find out they’ve gotten involved in a situation way over their heads.

I have a minor gripe with the chummy Scouse chat between the three lads, mainly because it is rather annoying. To give you a flavour, one exchange is “How’s it going mate?”, “Its tough mate”, the word “mate” gets used bloody hundreds to times. I’m aware that might accurately reflect working class Liverpudlian dialogue, but Christ, this wasn’t reflected in ‘Nowhere Boy’ or ‘Backbeat’ that featured salt of the earth lads from Merseyside.

There are also two bizarre, and I wouldn’t call them cameos, but very minor supporting roles in the film for Warwick Davis and Ricky Tomlinson. Davis is miscast as a murderous gangster dwarf (did such a thing exist in Capone’s Chicago?), and likely this was one of the roles that he drew inspiration for him when working on ‘Life’s Too Short’, and Tomlinson jovially larks about at the beginning and then right at the end of the movie. His appearance is rather baffling in both scenes and adds nothing to the ***Spoiler Alert*** happy ending.

– RJW
6/10

Al’s Lads on IMDB
Buy Al’s Lads [DVD]