Sunday, October 7, 2012

Son, Brother, Father in 'Untouchables'

Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness in The Untouchables

The first time I tried to watch The Untouchables, I had recorded it on DVR, but with the commercials on AMC, the movie took up 150 minutes of DVR space, so I prioritized and decided that I could chuck The Untouchables to make room for more important programming.

Maybe a month later I recorded it again on DVR and this time the movie flew by.  From the first explosion killing a child it's clear that Brian De Palma's Prohibition film is about the threat to the family.  This is when a young Kevin Costner, as FBI agent Eliot Ness, flaunts his sturdy German looks and farm boy identity to fight Chicago's crime. The first time he tries he fails and becomes the embarrassment of the FBI. He's down and out with a wife and daughter at home, but no male friends. This is where Sean Connery comes in to inject the perfect dose of mature masculinity into Ness's life.

Forming a team with a few other men, Ness heads into a cat and mouse with the criminal Al Capone and his associates. Ness's team becomes known as the Untouchables. The team becomes a brotherhood and a second family for Ness. The fact that this group of men becomes a family chokes me up as if I were hearing a powerful melisma in an opera. It makes perfect sense that the murder of Jim Malone (Sean Connery) is intercut with an opera Pagliacci that Al Capone (Robert De Niro) cries crocodile tears for. It's at this point that I feel like I'm in a disaster movie like 1972's The Poseidon Adventure, when I was connected to the characters so much that I hoped each one made it out alive. Like when Linda Rogo (Stella Stevens) falls into the fire causing Ernest Borgnine to break your heart with his grief.

Being an only child, I always wanted a brother. Every time a cousin or friend stayed over at my home, it was the most exciting thing in the world to me. The Untouchables is like many of De Palma's films because the brother-seeking protagonist becomes stronger at the film's end and finds his place in the world because of a family unit. Who doesn't want to find their place in the world, where they belong? The brotherhood saved Eliot Ness and made him a better father and overall better man. Who knows where Ness would have ended up if he hadn't met Jim Malone. He might have become a drunk lost in the world because of his failure to be a man. By saving himself, he saved his family.

If I hadn't urgently watched The Untouchables, I would have missed Sean Connery's Oscar-winning performance. He plays a character who plays father figure and brother to a younger version of himself. He tries to redeem his life by helping Eliot Ness take out Chicago's crime and making the world a better place. I may have erased the movie from my DVR, but it will stay forever in my mind.

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