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Every film contains multiple themes that create powerful storylines to satisfy an audience. A director’s most powerful tools in a film are his or her ability to use camera techniques to communicate with the audience. In the movie “The Untouchables” directed by Brian De Palma in 1987, Eliot Ness a treasury agent is set out to capture Al Capone from selling illegal alcohol during the Prohibition.
A powerful theme in The Untouchables is Eliot Ness’ moral decline toward his ability to serve justice upon evil. He goes through a transformation from a visionary young agent and family man into someone who must go against his oath to capture Al Capone and his illegal doings. DePalma shows the transformations of Eliot Ness’ values that in order to serve justice upon evil some degree of goodness and idealism must be sacrificed. DePalma uses point of view, close up and low angle techniques to illustrate Ness’ willingness to adapt and bring Capone down by any means necessary. Directors use different camera techniques to establish different plots and meanings throughout a film. Director Brian de Palma uses point of view shots to convey dramatic tension that Elliot Ness is feeling through the umbrella scene. In the beginning, Eliot Ness, started his job with a very outgoing personality, as any new agent would. He wanted nothing more but to catch Al Capone, the Chicago mobster. Eliot’s first goal was to conduct a strategy to raid a warehouse with a large squad of uniformed officers and take possession of illegal alcohol. As Elliot performs his mission, he uses an ax to break down the wooden imported boxes form Canada, only to find Chinese umbrellas. Depalma uses Ness’ point of view to show subliminal information about Eliot’s findings. Eliot’s feelings of embarrassment and disappointment are portrayed as he set himself up for failure. Depalma’s camera technique expresses to the audience the moral decline Eliot held as he unbarred the boxes. Elliot realized that what he is fighting against is not as easy as he envisioned it.
To continue the progression of Eliot transformation in the film, DePalma uses a close-up shot in the church scene. After Ness realizes he can’t trust anyone but himself, he goes to working alone without the incorruptible policemen, that he calls colleagues. He seeks out Malone, an genuine, experienced old cop, for a second hand. “What are you prepared to do?” Malone asks. “Everything within the law,” Ness replies. “And then what are you prepared to do?” Malone asks again. This scene was filmed in a church with a close-up of both men talking, to create confidentiality between the two. Ness realizes that he carefully needs to walk the line between good and evil to be successful in what he is doing. Malone tries to tell Eliot that playing by the rules will only set him up for failure. “You wanna know how to get Capone?” he asks Ness. “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way.” For Eliot to overpower Capone he needs to learn to shed his weakness and adapt to serve justice upon evil. Eliot transformation starts to be visible to the audience as he willing to do anything to put Capone behind bars. Furthermore, Ness’ full transformation of his values in order to serve justice is shown in the rooftop chase scene. After working tirelessly to seize Capone’s crimes, Eliot finally gets him in court for his tax evasions. With all the corrupt men that stand by Capone’s side, Eliot knows he will fail once again. He advises one of the officers to walk Nitti, Capone’s sideman, to step out of the courtroom.
Soon enough, Elliot is on the rooftop of the courthouse chasing after Nitti. “Arrest me!” Nitti yells at Eliot, knowing he won’t do anything to him. As Eliot is about to arrest Nitti, he unpleasantly comments on Malone’s death. Eliot knows he has broken every law that he has sworn to uphold, but he knows that he has done what is right. “You tell Capone that I’ll see him in hell,” says Ness, and pushes Nitti over the edge, falling to his death. As the scene ends, Depalma uses a low angle looking up at Eliot, as he just has pushed Nitti off the roof. This camera technique portrays Eliot as powerful and threat opposed to him always being looked down by the camera. DePalma illustrates the power shift from notorious Al Capone to the righteous Eliot Ness because of Ness’ willingness to adapt the meaning of what is right and wrong.
On the whole, the way a director frames a subject throughout a film has a major psychological effect on the audience and helps convey characters feelings, thoughts and actions. The way a camera is positioned can have a big effect on the storyline and the role of the character. DePalma uses point of view, close up and low angle techniques to illustrate Ness’ willingness to adapt and bring Capone down by any means necessary. Eliot needed to sacrifice his purity to some degree to fulfill his duties, portrays his transformation throughout the movie.
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