I want you to get this fuck where he breathes! I want you to find this nancy-boy
Eliot Ness, I want him DEAD! I want his family DEAD! I want his house
burned to the GROUND! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and I
wanna PISS ON HIS ASHES!
Prohibition in the United States led to an organized crime wave in the 1920s and early 1930s. Various gangs bootleg vast amounts of alcohol and enforce their business with violence and extortion. The problem is most serious in Chicago, where gang leader Al Capone (De Niro) supplies low-quality liquor at high prices. Treasury Department agent Elliot Ness (Costner) is put in charge of leading the crusade against Capone and his empire. Early warehouse raids fail due to corrupt officers in the Police Department.
Ness solicits help from Jim Malone (Connery), an incorruptible Irish-American police officer. Malone advises Ness to find more members to add to their new team from the police academy to ensure that no one betrays them to Capone. An Italian-American trainee George Stone, formerly Giuseppe Petri (Andy Garcia) is then enlisted due to his superior marksmanship. Along with an accountant Oscar Wallace, assigned to Ness from Washington, Ness has formed a new team to deal with Capone.
Their first raid takes place in a local post office, where its storeroom is used to house illegal liquor. Apparently, the place is overlooked because no one wants to provoke Capone and his gang. The raid succeeds without anyone killed. As the four are picking up steam, Wallace informs Ness that Capone has not filed an income tax return since 1926. Therefore a feasible method of prosecuting him would be through a tax evasion charge.
During a raid on the Canadian border, Ness captures one of Capone’s bookkeepers, George. They manage to persuade him to provide evidence against Capone. However, when Wallace is escorting him to a police car, Capone’s henchman Frank Nitti kills the two men. This leaves Ness with insufficient evidence to press charges. Malone tells Ness to stall the prosecutor from dropping the case while he searches for information regarding Capone’s other bookkeepers. He learns about Payne, another bookkeeper from the corrupt police chief.
That night, Malone is ambushed by Nitti at his home and shot countless times. Ness and Stone arrive to find him mortally wounded. With his dying breath, he informs the two about Payne’s upcoming departure from Chicago by train. He asks Ness, “What are you… prepared… to do!” before dying. Ness and Stone arrive at the Union Station and find Payne guarded by many gangsters. After a fierce shootout, the two succeed in killing all gangsters and taking Payne alive.
Payne testifies in court against Capone, admitting he has disbursed over $1.3 million for him over five years. Ness notices Nitti carrying a gun in court. He takes him out of the courtroom with the baliff and discovers that Nitti was permitted to do so. However, Nitti is revealed to be Malone’s murderer when Ness sees a matchbox with his address on it. Nitti runs up to the roof of the building and another gun battle occurs. Eventually Nitti gives himself up to Ness. In an act of vengeance after Nitti provokes him, Ness pushes Nitti off the building and into a car below. Back inside the courthouse, Stone shows Ness a document from Nitti’s jacket, suggesting that the jury has been bribed by Capone. Ness convinces the judge to do the right thing, saying that his name was among those in the bookkeeper's ledger of official payoffs (which the prosecutor privately corrects him on). As a result, the judge switches the jury with the one sitting on a divorce case next door. As a result, Capone is found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Ness packs up his Chicago office. He sees the Saint Jude pendant that Malone had carried with him for many years. Ness offers Stone the pendant having shaken hands with him. "He would have wanted a cop to have it," Ness insists, because Jude is the patron saint of the Chicago Police Department. Out on the street, a reporter wishes to have a word from the man who put Capone away, but Ness merely remarks he was just there "when the wheel went 'round."
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