The Untouchables (1987)


The Untouchables is a 1987 American crime-drama film directed by Brian De Palma and written by David Mamet. Based on the book The Untouchables, the film stars Kevin Costner as government agent Eliot Ness. It also stars Sean Connery as Irish-American officer Jimmy Malone and Robert De Niro as gang leader Al Capone. The film follows Ness's autobiographical account of his efforts to bring Capone to justice during the Prohibition era. The Untouchables was released on June 3, 1987, and was critically acclaimed. Observers praised the film for its approach, as well as its direction. The film was also a financial success, grossing $76 million domestically. The Untouchables was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, of which Connery received one for Best Supporting Actor.


Prohibition in the United States leads to an organized crime wave involving bootlegged alcohol in the 1920s and early 1930s. The problem is most serious in Chicago, where gang leader Al Capone (Robert De Niro) has almost the whole city (even the Mayor of Chicago) under his control, and supplies low-quality liquor at high prices. Bureau of Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is put in charge of leading the crusade against Capone and his empire. Ness's initial strategy is to conduct raids using a large squad of uniformed officers, but these fail due to corrupt cops who secretly tip Capone's men off. Seeking a change of tactics, Ness has a chance encounter with incorruptible Irish officer Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery) and asks for his help. Malone advises Ness to pick men who have never come under Capone's influence by recruiting directly from the police academy. Italian American trainee George Stone, formerly Giuseppe Petri (Andy García), is enlisted due to his superior marksmanship and intelligence under pressure. Joined by accountant Oscar Wallace, a character based on Frank J. Wilson (Charles Martin Smith), assigned to Ness from Washington, he has built an incorruptible team that can stand up to Capone. Their first raid takes place in a post office where illegal liquor is stored. Malone and most of the police know where the alcohol is and leave it alone because no one wants to provoke Capone and his gang. As the four pick up steam and become noted by the press, Wallace informs Ness that Capone has not filed an income tax return in four years; therefore, they can try Capone for tax evasion, if nothing else. Ness is visited by an alderman who tries to bribe him into dropping the investigation. Ness angrily rejects the bribe and throws him out, but not before the alderman mockingly refers to the team as "untouchable" and says that Capone can have anyone killed who gets in his way. Capone's chief assassin Frank Nitti (Billy Drago) shows up outside Ness' house and threatens his family. Realizing that his wife and daughter are now targets, Ness has them moved to a safer place, then takes the team to the Canada – United States border for a raid on an incoming liquor shipment. In an ensuing firefight Ness chases one of the gangsters into an empty house and traps him inside. The man pulls a gun on Ness, but is shot in the chest with a shotgun. Malone captures one of Capone's bookkeepers, George (Brad Sullivan). George proves uncooperative to Ness and his other two teammates, so Malone grabs the man Ness killed earlier (who George doesn't know is dead), demands information from him, and then shoots him through the mouth to scare George into cooperating, much to the dismay of the Mounties who have assisted in the raid. At the Chicago police station, Nitti, disguised as a policeman, kills both Wallace and George. Furious at the death of his friend and frustrated at losing his key witness, Ness confronts Capone and his men; only the intervention of Malone keeps him from being killed on the spot. Malone persuades Ness to stall the district attorney (uncredited Clifton James) from dropping the case, then corners corrupt police chief Mike Dorsett, who sold out Wallace and George to Capone. From Dorsett, he learns about another Capone accountant, Walter Payne, and calls Ness with the news. Just before Ness arrives, a knife-wielding thug breaks into Malone's home; Malone forces him out the front door with a shotgun, only to fall victim to Nitti's tommy gun ambush. He lives long enough for Ness and Stone to find him, and shows them which train Payne will take out of town before dying in Ness' arms. Ness and Stone arrive at Union Station and find Payne guarded by many gangsters. After a fierce shootout (an homage to the famous Odessa Steps scene from the 1926 Russian film The Battleship Potemkin), the two succeed in killing all of the gangsters and taking Payne alive. Payne testifies in court about the enormous cash flows throughout the Capone organization. Ness, however, notices that Capone seems unperturbed despite the probability of serving a long prison sentence, and also sees Nitti carrying a gun inside his jacket. He escorts Nitti out of the courtroom with the bailiff and discovers that Nitti has the mayor's permission to carry the weapon. Ness identifies Nitti as Malone's murderer after seeing Malone's address in Nitti's matchbook. Panicking, Nitti shoots the bailiff and flees to the roof of the building, exchanging gunfire with Ness along the way. Eventually, Ness has Nitti in his sights, but cannot bring himself to shoot him in cold blood. Nitti gives himself up to Ness, insulting Malone and bragging that he will never go to prison. Enraged at this idea and provoked to revenge, Ness throws Nitti off the roof to his death. Back inside the courthouse, Stone shows Ness a document from Nitti's jacket that reveals that the jury was bribed, explaining Capone's relaxed mood. The judge, saying the list has no provenance, has no intention of using it as evidence, until Ness bluffs that the judge's name is in Payne's ledger of official payoffs. To avoid being labeled as corrupt, the judge decides to switch juries with a neighboring courtroom and restart the trial. Before the trial can restart, however, Capone's lawyer withdraws the plea of "not guilty" for a plea of "guilty" without Capone's consent. Capone is subsequently sentenced to 11 years in prison. Packing up his Chicago office, Ness ponders the Saint Jude pendant that Malone had carried with him for many years, and which Malone had given to him before dying. He gives the pendant to Stone, reasoning that Malone would have wanted a cop to have it. Out on the street, a reporter wishes to have a word from the man who put Capone away, but Ness demurs. When the reporter mentions that Prohibition is due to be repealed and asks what Ness might do then, Ness responds, "I think I'll have a drink."