Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Question for the Week of Sept 17-23: Best Dumb Moment Ever

What's a completely stupid moment from a movie you really liked?
The very end of The Untouchables. Over the years, I've still been able to appreciate early De Palma, but that's been tempered by noticing huge problems in his movies.

I must've been watching the screen way too closely. Funny enough, my eyes were peeled because I was so pulled in by great cinematography, performances, dialogue, and story. I certainly loved it, and I may still (it's been ages since I saw it last) - but I was flat-out confused and disappointed by things I noticed.

There are many - Untouchables is first surprisingly, then astoundingly sloppy - but the worst, of course, happens during Al Capone's trial, the scene that caps the film. Having discovered jury tampering, Kevin Costner (at his coolest) coerces a judge to "do the right thing," and keep the trial going. As the score swells, we finally see DeNiro's Capone lose his cool, lashing out at everyone around him. Wow.

So what's the problem?

Earlier, Al told Agent Ness that he's "nothing but a lot of talk and a badge." That was a super-fun scene, which I still like very much; it's well put together. And, honestly, I do sometimes say to people "you got nuh-thing! You don't got-ah-thiiiing!" Try it now, you'll like it.

Skip to where the new jury's about to come in - which is a big problem, btw, since the new folks missed all the earlier evidence and testimony and thus can't decide jack. Capone's lawyer decides to switch his client's plea from "Not Guilty" to "Guilty" - which is a massive f--king problem, because you've actually got to discuss that with your client first.

Seriously, perhaps he was trying to get the whole thing thrown out of court by showing the judge that he's an incompetent attorney. There might be a retrial.

In any case: Costner walks over to DeNiro and repeats Sean Connery's dialogue, which actually makes it sound like Elliot Ness is insane or drugged. Capone has no real context for phrases like "here endeth the lesson" or "never stop fighting 'til the fighting's done." He must think that he was busted by a fed who sniffs ether.

The psychopathic thug that's inside Al finally comes out, in public. He's punching the air, he's struggling, he's shouting. Oh god, god, how he's shouting - specifically, it's the words, "you're nothing but a lot of talk and a badge." Many remember the operatic climax to this Oscar-winning film with touching moments and great action scenes...

But how often does the bad guy say that line? On the Youtube clip, 9 - I may have to rent or borrow the DVD for louder, high quality sound. I s--t you not, I counted once from a cable broadcast and it was like 12. Let's watch that clip again. Turn up the sound a little and listen. He's saying it while being moved around in a way that would garble his speech, but it's like he's his own supercut.

Even if you accept this moment, it's like crime boss Al Capone went from "suddenly snapped" to "complete neurotic breakdown." He's like a very ill-advised kids' toy that speaks, and is now broken - or Christopher Lloyd at the end of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, right?

And it's not just that Robert DeNiro decided to overact the scene to pieces. Sadly, I've come to see the man live below his reputation since the late 90's - but only in the years since then, not when The Untouchables was released. Nope, this all comes down to editing. Bobby D shoves his lawyer away - and I swear, when he says "do somethin' over here!" I want him to then add "DOOO IT!"

Play that clip again if you want. It'd be cheap to just embed it a third time.

No wait, screw that; just skip to the 1:37 mark on the vid.

But just as this award-winning motion picture crests the rise, someone in the sound department decided to hit a button with the line "you're nothing but a lot of talk and a badge" over and over and over again. The editors and director - the only other people who might have made this choice - signed off it, so... they're on the hook, too.

Here's the extra-extra-extra incompetent part of it: if you simply watch the scene, you realize that Al Capone is saying those words when we see that he can't physically be saying those words. I'm sorry, Mr. De Palma, but I can afford to "aim to miss" when I write a poem or hell, even one of these posts. Even a kid could spot problems with your multi-million dollar production that has lots of other names on it.

Nowadays, as someone in the legal industry, I keep waiting for the judge to blow the whole climax by banging his gavel and saying, "MISTRIAL! All of this has actually resolved nothing whatsoever! Nothing has been accomplished for the future, really! We might not even bust the old jury..." How much of a buzz-kill would that've been?

Either way, I'll never forget that old gripe. Also either way, it doesn't make The Untouchables less fun or well-performed, but it really is a sloppy, stupid moment in a movie that I truly enjoyed. Actually, tU has a bunch of sloppy moments and beats, but I could never just trash it.

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