In order to properly sum up Sean Connery’s career with only four movies, one must watch at least one movie where he plays a supporting role instead of the lead. He played a lot of supporting roles over the years, like Indiana Jones’s father in The Last Crusade, the dragon in Dragonheart, Ramirez in Highlander, which I’ve looked at on this blog before, but would to do a proper review of in the future. What better supporting role to look at than the one that earned him an Academy Award?
The Untouchables is based on the book of the same name, which itself is based on real life Elliot Ness’s mission to put Al Capone in prison. The book itself does have some false details and isn’t always in the correct chronological order, but it is broadly accurate.
Also a fun fact on a personal level – this movie premiered the day I was born.
The Untouchables began production in August of 1986, and featured a number of historical Chicago locations. I can’t find too much information on the actual casting of the movie, but it features a number of well-known names. Kevin Costner plays federal agent Elliot Ness. While preparing for the role, he met with former FBI agent Al Wolff, who personally knew Ness, for historical context and learning about Ness’s mannerisms. Robert De Niro was always the first choice for Al Capone. De Niro researched Al Capone a lot for his performance; watching historical footage, reading up on the case, and even gained 30 pounds just to make his face look right.
They also contacted Bob Hoskins as a backup for AL Capone in case Di Niro turned down the role. He actually earned £20,000 just for being a stand in, and called director Brian De Palma to ask if there were any more movies he didn’t want him to be in.
Andy Garcia plays George Stone, a young cop who is an excellent shot and has a fighting attitude. Charles Martin Smith plays Oscar Wallace, an IRS agent based on Frank J. Wilson, who in real life spent years tracking Capone’s financial dealings before laying charges. He’s a character who mostly focuses on the books, but is still able to fight when he needs to. In the movie Wallace is killed, but his real life counterpart survived the investigation, and was later involved in the famous Charles Lindbergh Jr. kidnapping case.
Almost all of the filming took place in Chicago, with a bridge sequence filmed at Cascade, Montana, as a portrayal of a 1930’s Canada/US border. Several 20’s and 30’s vehicles were rented from private ranchers for the bridge sequence, which took about 10 days to complete. They rented the bridge for much longer, just in case they faced production delays. Hundreds were allowed to watch the filming from a nearby field, and Connery would often greet them personally between takes.
The movie released in early June of 1987 to positive reception, with an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. The New York Times called it “smashing work”, and said it was “vulgar, violent, funny and sometimes breathtakingly beautiful.” Time Magazine’s review stated “Mamet’s elegantly efficient script does not waste a word, and De Palma does not waste a shot.” Ebert’s review was overall positive, praising the movie’s action, but criticized the portrayal of Al Capone. He described the portrayal as arrogant and childish, to the point of misbehaving in court. He did heap a lot of praise on Connery’s portrayal of Jimmy Malone though.
On top of Connery’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, the movie received nominations for Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, and Best Production Design. Connery also won that year’s Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, other Best Actor awards at the London Film Critic’s Circle, Kansas City Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the NBR, as well as a nomination at the BAFTAs. The movie won the Grammy Award for Best Film Soundtrack, and Best Music at the BAFTAs.
The movie opened at number 1, and ended up with the 10th best opening of the year with $10 million. The movie ended up earning $100 million worldwide on a $25 million budget.
As for the movie itself, it’s pretty good. As its multiple awards suggest, the music helps perfectly set the tone for 1930’s Chicago, and the set design and costume work makes you feel like you’ve taken a time machine back to the prohibition era. Elliot Ness starts off the movie as a federal agent for the treasury department who vows to take Capone down shortly after a 10-year-old girl is killed in an assassination job (she wasn’t the target). That said, he’s intentionally misled by the police in the city at first, leading to a very public failed moonshine raid.
Connery’s character acts as both a mentor and the Untouchable squad’s tough guy, and he plays the part very well. He’s convincing as an older cop who kept his head down to stay alive for a while, but his devotion to upholding the law soon takes over. He’s also the one who’s got all the connection to find out where all of the moonshine actually is, and how to seek the evidence they need to put Capone behind bars. In the movie he’s supposed to be an Irish American, but his Scottish accent really comes through. That’s part of his charm though – combined with his Scottish accent and his lisp, he had simultaneously the worst and best accent in the movie industry. Like with many of his roles, he’s charismatic, knows how to be tough even when fast approaching his 60’s, and is convincing as an honest cop with a mean streak just waiting to burst out.
De Niro is also great as Capone, putting in an iconic performance. He’s charismatic, knows how to entertain a crowd and play the media, but he’s also very intimidating when he wants to be. I can see what Ebert means by acting childish, but I don’t really agree. Even then, his courtroom outburst is more of a writing and directing choice, not a performance problem. The other performances in this movie are good, but none of the rest are particularly memorable.
There are a number of reasons to watch this movie if you haven’t. Although it may not be completely accurate to how they actually took down Al Capone, it’s still an enjoyable gangster film that oozes of 1930’s Chicago. Connery and De Niro both put in memorable performances that kind of drown out a number of other competent actors. It’s an entertaining movie, but also gets fairly dark and dramatic at times. I wouldn’t really call this an action movie, but both the border shootout and the staircase fight are great action scenes.
I’ll be closing this Sean Connery month off with a weird one, which I won’t spoil just yet. Not yet sure what I’ll be focusing on next month, but some of my options include some odds-and-ends, another month with movies based on true stories, or start a pre DC Cinematic Universe blog series on all the Superman and Batman movies. There would be a lot to talk about with that kind of series, both good and bad, especially if I also cover spin-offs like Catwoman, the Supergirl movie, and Steel (starring Shaq).