"People are going to drink!" Brian De Palma's 1987 film The Untouchables is a classic portrayal of one of America's most notorious gangsters and the elite team of law enforcement that was poised on taking him down. Set in the 1930s, the film is accurate in many of its depictions and thematic structures, yet is plagued with some historical inaccuracies that decrease the credibility of the plot. However, the basic structure of the movie shows how the American public is so fascinated with underground culture.
The film did highlight a number of historical accuracies that were depicted very honestly by De Palma. The movie was very accurate in appropriately depicting the settings and lifestyles that were present in Chicago in the 1920s and early 1930s. The film really shows the style of the era, and all the clothing and sets are very true to the time period. Being a huge fan of the style in the 1920s myself, I was excited to see what each character was wearing at all times, but also to see what Chicago would have looked like at the time. The settings are really on point in the film, with great effort put into even the smallest details. The cars are all period cars, which was really enjoyable and probably very expensive to pull of, as many of them were in pristine condition like they would have looked right off the lot. The luxury that Al Capone lives in was incredibly detailed, and apparently very accurate. Being a self-made millionaire, Capone was definitely one to spoil himself. The film shows him and all his luxury in great detail in the Lexington Hotel. Yet, this luxury is contrasted with the presence of criminal enterprises, as the hotel is shown to be the site of prostitution and gambling, which were essentially the ways Capone earned his riches in reality as well as in the movie.
There were also more intricate details about the nature of Chicago society at the time and how the gangsters and law enforcement interacted with each other and the rest of the public in the city. For example, the image of Al Capone as a sort of American hero was, in many ways, how he was represented by many press outlets during the turbulent times during a notorious period in American history. Essentially, many Americans were offended that the government had overstepped its boundaries in the execution of Prohibition. Many people did not believe that it was the government's place to tell them what they could and not do in terms of restricting their choice to drink alcohol. As such, many people at the period saw Al Capone as a sort of folk hero, because he took a stand against Prohibition. Additionally, Capone was often portrayed as a champion of the people. From his humble roots, Capone made a name and a fortune for himself. American society has always glorified the self-made millionaires, and so Capone was one of those who were often praised for his ability to rise above adversity and make his own fortune, outside of the restricting and often questionable limitations of the government. De Palma really captures the public's fascination with Capone and even shows through both dialogue and visual imagery the concept of Capone being seen by many as more of a hero than a heartless gangster and murderer. From the very beginning of the movie, the public clearly shows its strong fascination for the gangster. The opening scene shows Capone being questioned by reporters as to why he had not run for mayor. A gangster, running for mayor? This sounds absurd in today's environment, but many people did show admiration for the notorious figure based on his amendable public personality and the fact that he was truly a self-made man. This scene also shows Capone as defending his business dealings, stating that he had no intention for violence, but that had been an undesired consequence of providing alcohol during the era of Prohibition. In this, De Palma is illustrating how Capone always made sure to play up his role as a strange sort of folk hero, never admitting to violence or murder that law enforcement knew he was involved with but could not trace back to him. Rather, law enforcement could really only stick Capone with the crime of tax evasion, which is also honestly represented in the film.
However, De Palma is also very thorough in contrasting this folk hero image with the much darker side of Capone and his business dealings. Just as the opening scene shows him looking innocent and playing up that image in the press, the film turns to show a vendor and his young daughter being blown up after the man had refused to accept a deal from Capone on some of his illegal alcohol. In this, De Palma is showing the strange contradiction that Capone represented at the time. On the one hand, he was a glorified champion of the people, while on the other he was a ruthless gangster who was not afraid to hurt anyone who got in his way. De Palma's depiction in the film provides a glimpse into this strange contradiction in a dramatic fashion with the polar opposites of murdering an innocent young girl and being praised by the press for his "service" to Chicago. Capone was often a ruthless business partner, and the film's depiction of him being very violent towards individuals who he had bad business dealings with is accurate. This is further portrayed when Elliot Ness uncovers evidence that Capone had brutally murdered three of his own men with a baseball bat after he believed that they were traitors. The brutal murder took place at a nice business dinner, anther contradiction that really sets up the theme of contradictory the strange figure of Al Capone was.
The movie also accurately shows the public's distrust and even disgust for law enforcement in the film. Many were upset at the government's decision to step in and restrict general liberties, like the freedom to choose to drink alcohol. As a result, many in the public were actually very dismissive of law enforcement's efforts to reign down on figures like Al Capone. This along with the public's strange fascination with gang life and culture at the time period made it often difficult for law enforcement to rely on the public for information and assistance in fighting crime. De Palma accurately represents this throughout the length of the film. On several occasions, Ness and his men are alienated from the public, with clear signs of discontent being shown at their presence within Chicago. The film does show how many people left false tip offs and actually went to great lengths to interrupt the investigations of the Untouchables, led by Ness. Although there was one element of this that De Palma did elaborate on, the role that Ness played with the press. In reality, Ness did not have a very good relationship with the press, and they often made him out to look foolish, arrogant, and ill equipped to take on the massive force that was Al Capone and his gang. This differs from the image of Ness in the film. As Kevin Costner played Ness, it was hard to paint him in the goofy and awkward light that Ness was actually portrayed in during the time period. Rather, De Palma, made Ness much more likable and successful using the press to display a good image for himself.
There were many more inaccuracies that made the movie less believable that counteracted against the more accurate portrayals and details in the film. For example, the time period of the movie was a little off to what was really going on in history. The movie is set in 1930, but…