Movie #96: The Untouchables (1987)

Director: Brian De Palma

Starring: Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, and Robert De Niro

Academy Awards (1988):

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Sean Connery

Academy Award  Nominations:

Best Art Direction-Set Direction: Patrizia von Brandenstein, William A. Elliot, Hal Gausman

Best Costume Design: Marilyn Vance

Best Music, Original Score: Ennio Morricone

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” Word is they’re going to repeal Prohibition. What’ll you do then?”

“I think I’ll have a drink.”

Chicago, 1930.  Federal Agent Eliot Ness (Costner), along with veteran beat cop Jim Malone (Connery), Treasury Agent Oscar Wallace (Smith), and rookie cop George Stone (Garcia) take down Al Capone (De Niro) at any and all cost.

The Untouchables, based on Ness’ autobiography, is a great period piece that makes great use of dramatic effect and incorporates background music to create brilliant suspense.  There’s very little I can be critical of with this film.

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Though he had very limited screen time, Robert De Niro made the most of it as the ruthless crime boss.  His baseball speech worked great, and though it seemed pretty clear that he was going to use the bat on someone, the way in which he gave the speech had a nice build up to that scene-stopping moment.

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This was one of Andy Garcia’s first significant movie roles.  He does great in a more reserved and secondary role.  As a voice of reason following Wallace’s death, I think he does great in portraying how his character knows Wallace was on to something, but he didn’t entirely understand all the legal accounting jargon.  Likewise Charles Martin Smith does great in his supporting role on the task force.  He brings a more light-hearted charter to the film.  De Palma keeps his character as more, for lack of a better word, of a comic relief to a degree.  Even his death scene, though powerful, is not nearly as gruesome as others.

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Earning an Oscar the only time he was nominated for one, Sean Connery steals every scene he’s in.  From Malone’s first encounter with Ness, Connery owns that older, wiser, honest cop.  Though Kevin Costner plays the lead character, he takes second fiddle to Connery’s Malone.  Though I know what will happen when Malone is killed off, the first-person perspective of the gangster is chilling every time I watch that scene.  Great filming coupled with excellent use of background music create the most suspenseful scene in The Untouchables, followed closely by the baby carriage shoot out scene of course.

This is probably one of my favorite Kevin Costner performances.  I find that he does better in these sorts of period pieces compared to other films.  He makes great use of a wide acting range from the embarrassed agent to husband and father and so on.  His progression through the film from wanting to take down Capone by any legal means necessary at the beginning to uses any and all means necessary by the end also allows him to showcase a range of emotions and inward moral struggles that Ness goes through.

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The Untouchables is a great period piece film that has strong acting from many lead and supporting actors.  The cinematography in this film goes a long way in engaging the audience with suspense and build up.  I’d highly recommend seeing this one, though I feel it’s one that I have to take quite a bit of time between viewings.

My Rating: 4/5 stars.

Movie #95: 300 (2007)

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Dominic West, and Rodrigo Santoro

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In 450 BC at the Battle of Thermopylae, 300 Spartans, along with other Greek soldiers, led by King Leonidas (Butler) fight the invading Persian army led by the King Xerxes (Santoro).  Narrated by Spartan soldier Dilios (Wenham), the Greeks ward off the Persians for three days.

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“You bring the crowns and heads of conquered kings to my city steps. You insult my queen. You threaten my people with slavery and death! Oh, I’ve chosen my words carefully, Persian. Perhaps you should have done the same!”

Oh my goodness where do I start with this movie?  Shot entirely in front of a green screen so the filmmakers could create the mythical mysterious darker look similar to the graphic novel the film is based on, 300 portrays a romanticized version of one of the most well-known battles in ancient history.

I can now say I’ve watched this film twice.  Once in the theater, and again now.  I really didn’t care for it when it came out, this time it was a little more tolerable.  There are a number of things I enjoyed about this film, but at the end of the day, it’s men fighting each other, saying and doing macho things.

The narrative aspects of a movie like this can go a long way in making or breaking the film.  I think Snyder does a good job of incorporating Dilios’ narration of the events leading up to and during the battle.  David Wenham has a good narrative voice, and having proven his acting abilities in this type of film with his portrayal of Faramir in the Lord of the Rings series, he was a good casting decision for this role.

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This was probably one of Gerard Butler’s best performances.  I’ve seen a handful or so of his films, and 300 is probably his most successful one at the box office.  He’s unforgiving and unwavering in his loyalty to Sparta and Greece, a strong leader.  However, the grizzled voice he uses when addressing his men got really old really fast.  Rodrigo Santoro does great as Xerxes in contrast to Butler’s Leonidas, using an army of sheer numbers and quantity compared to the Spartan quality of soldiers.  The pampered contrasting the gritty realist.

The darker tone used throughout the film added to the mystique and gave the film a nice ancient feel to it.  Though I thought the film relied way too much on special effects, this is one aspect of the film that I think was done right.

300 is a film that requires very little thought and relies heavily on the beat-your-chest-to-feel-like-a-man mentality.  The way it is shot and the heavy reliance on battle scenes and war make it perfect for teenage boys, both literal and figurative.  I found it enjoyable at the end of a long few days as a way to unwind and not have to over analyze what I’m watching.  I’m still up in the air as to seeing 300: Rise of an Empire in theaters, though I’ll probably settle for a matinée.

Would I recommend 300?  If you’re a teenage boy or need to have a popcorn/requires nothing of the audience movie, absolutely.  Other than that, find something else.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.