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THE UNTOUCHABLES. Directed by Brian De Palma; written by David Memet; produced by Art Linnon for Paramount. Starring Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and Robert De Niro. Rated R (violence, language).


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There's enough blood and guts in The Untouchables to please even a Rambo fan.

But this movie aims higher than the usual shoot-'em-up. And, despite a few problems, it scores a bull's eye.

It's an extremely well-made and provocative movie, with thoughtful character relationships, a story of innocence confronting corruption that's almost epic in proportion, and excellent performances all around.

Fans of the old "Untouchables" T.V. series will find few similarities between it and the current movie—beyond the setting and general storyline, of course. Both deal with the efforts of a small squad of Treasury Department agents, led by Eliot Ness (here played by Costner), to control bootlegging and its attendant violence in Prohibition-era Chicago.

The T.V. series tried for a documentary style, with its Walter Winchell narration. The movie is more artistic, taking poetic license with history and getting away with it because of the strength of its story and characters.

One problem both the movie and the T.V. show have in common is that their bad guys are much more interesting as people than the good guys. The latter are, well, "untouchable"—incorruptible straight-arrows single-mindedly pursuing mobster Al Capone. Who is charming, witty, powerful and a cold-blooded, thoroughly corrupted, killer.

Costner does the best he can, helped by a script that puts his sensibilities center-screen at all times, to make Ness interesting. Here the character has more depth and internal conflicts than Robert Stack ever showed on T.V.

Costner is a family man, for one thing, where Stack wasn't, and he actually has a few funny lines to say. At the beginning, he seems more naive than the real Ness could possibly have been. And there are some more significant alterations of his history as well, as the movie progresses. But he's still not really likeable as a hero and the movie suffers a bit from having such a charisma-less central figure.

Capone (De Niro) in contrast, is brimming with charisma. But he's definitely on the dark side here of the fatherly mobster myth that De Niro himself played so well in The Godfather, Part II. Capone's bloodthirsty, savage nature is illustrated early on, in a revolting scene in which he beats a disloyal subordinate to death with a baseball bat—at an elegant dinner party, yet.

De Niro's performance is, as usual, flawless. With an extra 30 pounds and an artificially receding hairline, he even looks like Capone and doesn't look too much like Robert De Niro. His on-screen time is minimal, but his impact is undeniable,

It's Connery's character, the old cop Malone, who really saves the good guys from the blahs. As jaded and crusty as Ness is idealistic and vulnerable, Malone educates the younger man in the "Chicago style" of business. Connery's portrayal is a delight and his relationship with Costner is lively and illuminating.

There are several violent scenes in The Untouchables that, while not being uncalled for, are certainly graphic enough to turn some viewers' stomachs. Some moviegoers, too, who like their action presented in a straightforward manner, may grow impatient with director De Palma's artistic touches.

But for people who are serious about their movies, The Untouchables is a must- see.

June 17, 1987

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