Discuss how tension is created in the train station sequence in 'The Untouchables' (1987)

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‘The untouchables’ is a film which is based on a true story. It was made in 1987 by Brian de Palma. It is about Elliot ness, an officer for the treasury department in Chicago, who needs to pin Al Capone for tax evasion. With the help of his three companions, Jim Malone, George Stone and Oscar Wallace, he comes up with a plan to get Al Capone! But with the unfortunate ness of both Malone and Wallace being murdered, Elliot and George must continue their mission together to find a way to catch Capone.

The only way that they will find Capone Guilty is to get a witness.

The best witness they can get is the book Keeper. He is the only one who knows how to un-code the account books. But, Al Capone tries to get the Book Keeper out of the country by train to stop Ness using the book keeper as a witness. So, Ness and Stone must go to the train station to intercept the book keeper.

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In the union station scene, there are many things that build up tension. One of the main things in the scene that builds up tension is the long camera shots. This seems to slow time down, draw it out and make time seem that it is going a lot slower than it actually is.

In the train station, the most important prop would probably be the Big Clock above the main entrance to the station. This builds up tension, because every time the camera focuses in on it; the audience can see just how long Ness and Stone have before the book-keeper arrives.

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As the time they have goes down more, the more times the camera shows the clock. The scene should last only ten minutes, but it is in-fact slightly shorter. The train station that they used in ‘The untouchables’ is called Union station. Because of the size of union station, there is a lot of space to be covered.

This adds tension to the scene because of there only being to people to cover the whole of the station. This builds more tension because the book-keeper could come in at any of the entrances and Ness and Stone could easily miss him, so they need to keep a close lookout, or they will miss their chance. Also, when Ness and Stone are forced to split up (because they have to cover the most space possible), tension builds because they are more venerable when separated. Also, with the thoughts of how easily the other two untouchables were killed, separation doesn’t quite inspire confidence.

When the public start to arrive at the train station, Ness and Stone become increasingly uneasy because anyone of the people entering the train station could be the book-Keeper. So Ness and Stone must make sure that they identify everybody that enters the station so they can’t miss the book-keeper. Also, with the public in the station, It is dangerous for them if there is going to be shooting, because they could shoot an innocent person or even accidentally shoot the Book-Keeper, who they need alive so they can take Al Capone to court.

So far, the only non-diegetic sound has been low lying undertones played on a cello with a bow. But, with all of the people coming in quickly, Ness sees a lady struggling up the stairs with a pram. This puts Ness in a dilemma. This adds tension to the scene because Ness is in a dilemma, because he feels a need to help people, he can’t just stand back and watch this lady struggle up the stairs and possibly get caught in the middle of a shoot out. But also, he needs to keep a look out for the book-keeper; otherwise he could just walk by.

When the baby is shown on camera, a non-diegetic lullaby is played; this shows the innocence of the baby. But then, the audience are reminded of the danger and sinister situation with the low undertones behind the lullaby. After deciding to help the young lady up the steps with her baby, a group of men come in. One of these gangsters immediately recognises Ness. This builds up tension because there are quick camera shots which keep switching from Ness to the gangster, indicating that something is going to happen between them.

However, when Ness pulls out his gun to shoot the gangster, he lets go of the baby’s pram, which in turn begins to fall down the steps. This creates more suspense because as the baby starts to roll down the stairs, we see it in slow motion. This makes this particular shot last longer. Still in slow motion, the camera focuses in on Ness and then on the gangsters as they are being shot. The non-diegetic sound at this point is a high diminished chord played by violins. This chord shows a climax to what is happening, but sounds scary and sad. But then underneath, the low undertones come back in, underneath the violin chord.

We then see the mother of the baby screaming as the pram continues to roll down the steps and guns continue to be fired start to be fired. This causes tension because the innocence of the baby is at risk from being shot as well as falling down stairs. When there are only about two gangsters left, Ness is reminded of the baby falling down the steps by the noise of the wheels hitting the stone stairs. Once again, he is in a dilemma of weather to save the baby or shoot another gangster. This creates more tension because Ness must make an important decision which could be fatal.

So, as ness chases the pram down the steps, he is still shooting at the gangster directly in front of him, who has just reloaded his gun. But, as Ness approaches the bottom of the steps, he runs out of ammo. This adds the anxiety because ness is being shot at, but he cannot shoot back, so he could possibly be killed. But luckily, just as the gangster is about to pull out from behind the pillar, (which he was using as a shield) Stone runs across from the side and throws a gun to Ness, who shoots the gangster and then catches the pram.

This is relief for the audience, because the main threat is over and the lullaby music starts again. But, then, the camera focuses in on the last of the gangsters who is holding the book-keeper hostage. This causes a lot of tension because if the book-keeper dies, then the remaining untouchables can’t take Al Capone to court. The gangster has a really sweaty face which would indicate that he is nervous, but both Ness and Stone look very confident. The book-keeper begins to shout madly which shows that he is obviously in a lot of distress.

But Ness and Stone still seem very confident. The Gangster threatens to kill the book-keeper. By this point, all non-diegetic sound has stopped. The camera flickers in-between the gangster, Ness and stone. As the gangster begins to count, Ness and stone still look confident. After the gangster has called the number ‘one’ the camera switches in between the three of them slightly faster. The suspense is at a climax . When the camera reaches Ness, he gives Stone the command and Stone shoots the Gangster.

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Discuss how tension is created in the train station sequence in 'The Untouchables' (1987). (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/discuss-tension-created-train-station-sequence-untouchables-1987-new-essay

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