Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Freeze Frame #41: The Untouchables

The opening scene in The Untouchables shows Al Capone giving a newspaper reporter an interview while he is getting a shave. At one point, the barber makes a mistake and nicks Capone, annoying the latter. It's a tense moment, for he knows (and we do, thanks to a title card in the beginning, in case we hadn't heard of Capone already) that this is a very dangerous man he's dealing with, and this little nick could cost him heavily. Then Capone smiles, tells him it's all right, and continues with the interview.

It's a small incident, and Capone would probably forget about it in a few minutes, but in that five second pause and the smile following it, he effectively conveys how he holds the power of life and death over people. In fact, the very next scene shows a small shop being blown apart by a bomb placed there by one of Capone's men.

Take away the surface gloss, the art direction and the period setting, and you'll find that The Untouchables is a very well-made masala movie. Robert De Niro's performance as Al Capone is a perfect example. He doesn't play him as a real gangster, and there's none of the searing intensity you'd find in, say Taxi Driver or Goodfellas. Frankly, if he had introduced himself with the lines, Saara shehar mujhe Loin ke naam se jaanta hai, it wouldn't have seemed out of place.

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