A green Treasury agent assembles a team to take down Al Capone.
Directed by Brian De Palma
Starring Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, and Robert de Niro
Review by Jon Kissel
Brian De Palma, one of 70’s cinema’s greatest pervs, goes oddly mainstream with The Untouchables. Doubly odd in how its script is written by David Mamet of all people, the film seems like two idiosyncratic creators reaching for popular success. They achieved it on the awards circuit and at the box office, but while this movie might have been thrilling in 1987, it’s now rote and almost boring in its predictability and its ridiculousness. The Untouchables has De Palma’s knack for composition and Mamet’s utility with a resonant line, and that’s about it.
Spike Lee’s been a professor at NYU for going on three decades and the boundaries between his teaching job and his directing job fully melt down in Da 5 Bloods. Lee treats his 24th film like it’s his first, greedily cramming it with endless references and ideas, both contemporary and historical, at the cost of realistic characters having human conversations. Uneven throughout its entirety and within individual scenes, this is one of my least favorite works from a director with a lot of greatness to his name. I just wish he’d get an apparent case of late-onset ADHD under control.
The action movies that dominated the mid-90’s occupy an interesting place in the culture. The Cold War’s over, so Communist villains are out, but it’s pre-9/11, so the next easy bad-guy shorthand hasn’t arrived yet, either. Hollywood’s still reveling in leftover masculinity from the 80’s, so there’s none of the introspection of something like the Bourne series. We’re all gung-ho with nowhere to go, so these movies frequently envision internal chaotic enemies i.e. your Castor Troys, your Cyrus the Viruses. Whatever it takes to keep the Department of Defense-sponsored glorification of war games going. Broken Arrow is an early example of the six-year period that would be dominated by Jerry Bruckheimer and his protégé Michael Bay, and no one would say it’s the best of breed. Hong Kong action staple director John Woo still hasn’t figured out how to marry his distinctive style to English-language film, a synchronization he would finally crack one year later with Face/Off. These absurd movies need to get as far from realism as possible, and Broken Arrow, while it’s no one’s idea of realistic, is still too close. I at least need magnet boots or their equivalent in my nonsense action.
The term ‘influential’ is a complicated one in film history. It implies some kind of groundbreaking idea or technique that no one had thought of before and future filmmakers adopted, but there’s a difference between first and widest-reaching. There were zombie movies before Night of the Living Dead, and there were McGuffin movies before Raiders of the Lost Ark. Movies that are supposedly influential, too, have the disadvantage of being the original, such that dozens of directors get to take a crack at them before a viewer goes back and sees the original. Going into Seven Samurai for the first time, I’d seen plenty of Japanese period films, Westerns, war films, and teams being assembled. I also knew of Seven Samurai’s reputation as one of the most critically acclaimed films ever made, currently standing at #17 on the Sight and Sound Top 250 list of lists. That’s a lot of baggage to put on its hefty 207 minute runtime, but this is still a classic worthy of imitation. Strip all the expectations away, and it’s just as entertaining and resonant as it was when it was released sixty-six years ago.
We live in complicated times at this moment, but it’s easy to forget that our parents didn’t have it any easier, and arguably had it harder. They also lived through an unnecessary war, choking economic stagnation, and intranational conditions that erupted in violence. How film dealt with the 60’s and 70’s, specifically the Vietnam War, is an attempt at public therapy but it can’t help but fall into political poles. Some of the most memorable and acclaimed movies about Vietnam, like Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket, focus on the insanity and the absurdity, and therefore split the right/left divisions. Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July work as axes to grind by their director, Oliver Stone, who remains justifiably angry at the government that deceitfully sent so many of its own citizens to kill and be killed. On the opposite end of the spectrum are films like the Rambo sequels and Hamburger Hill, works that feed into a victimization and a stabbed-in-the-back narrative that has sustained fascist movements throughout the 20th century and beyond. Hamburger Hill reeks of political messaging in the most blunt way imaginable, a film that laments the loss of life while reveling in blood and gore. Along with American Sniper, this might be the worst war film I’ve ever seen.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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