1930. Prohibition has transformed Chicago into a city at war. Rival gangs compete for control of the city's billion dollar empire of illegal alcohol, enforcing their will with the hand grenade and Tommy gun. It is the time of the ganglords. It is the time of Judge Ryan Keefer.
Our reviews of Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Contemporary (Blu-ray) (published May 31st, 2013), The Untouchables (published March 2nd, 2001), The Untouchables: Special Edition (published October 18th, 2004), The Untouchables: Season 1, Volume 1 (published June 13th, 2007), The Untouchables: Season 4, Volume 1 (published August 2nd, 2012), The Untouchables: Season 1, Volume 2 (published October 17th, 2007), The Untouchables: Season 2, Volume 2 (published August 26th, 2008), and The Untouchables: Season 4, Volume 2 (published August 2nd, 2012) are also available.
"You wanna know how to get Capone? 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!"
The Untouchables remains one of those films that retains a lot of luster while boasting a great cast and director—and it made a bunch of money in the process. The film was first released as a barebones title, then as a Special Edition, and now with a release on HD DVD. Is the third time a proverbial charm?
Facts of the Case
David Mamet, you know, that guy, wrote a script that was directed by Brian De Palma. In the film set during prohibition Chicago, Treasury Agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner, Bull Durham) comes to the city of broad shoulders to enforce the rules surrounding alcohol. The man in Chicago controlling the flow of alcohol and other bad behavior is noted gangster Al Capone (Robert DeNiro, Raging Bull). It is the function of Ness and a handpicked group of recruits—rookie George Stone (Andy Garcia, Ocean's 11), veteran beat cop Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery, Goldfinger) and accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith, American Graffiti)—to try and enforce the law while repelling Capone's seemingly countless supply of thugs and lawyers.
What remains the most alluring part of The Untouchables now a full two decades after it came out in theaters (when I first remember seeing it) was that it helped to breathe life into the crime film genre and when it comes to mafia appreciation, gently tips things on its ear. The conveyed thought is that Ness' Untouchables are fighting a losing battle. Even when they might have turned the momentum in their favor, things aren't substantial. Because Capone is Capone, there's always an underlying theme that Capone's men are going to get the Untouchables. So they either do or they don't. And capturing the bad guy seems to have less emphasis than similar movies in the past have been, and that's not a bad thing.
But in watching this film again for the first time in a long time, it's clear that the story still holds up, but De Palma tries to throw a touchdown pass in scenes where it doesn't appear to be needed. I don't mean to utter blasphemy when I talk about the much revered sequence involving Ness, a Capone accountant and a descending baby carriage in a train station, but that sequence seems to be the one that doesn't linger too much in the brain years later. In fact, the acting seems to have held up more now, and several years ago I thought the polar opposite. The similarity between then and now in my opinion is that Connery's role easily makes you forget that he ever was James Bond, and that Smith was enjoyable and endearing in his role as Wallace. I never really was a fan of Costner's performance, but I've grown to appreciate it as more of a very green government agent whose on the job training is apparently over the course of two hours. And, of course, Mamet is Mamet, and with these actors reciting his lines, that's the best (or at least, the most fun) part of the movie for me at this point.
Before Paramount's decision to side with the HD DVD format, back in the salad days when they were releasing on both platforms, the decision was to release Blu-ray titles using the AVC codec and HD DVD discs got the VC-1 treatment. In a rather amateurish manner, I compared some of the VC-1 images to the Blu-ray copy of said disc that I already owned, and I couldn't really tell that much of a difference between the two. This is not to say that VC-1 and AVC are the same, because I don't believe they are, but within the film, while there is some more detail to the image and blacks seem to be outstanding, they both look near identical. There, all you techies should be happy! The 5.1 EX and DTS tracks in high definition are somewhat underwhelming, though the most notable improvement is Ennio Morricone's score, which soars in quite a few scenes throughout the feature. The score is great, though the rest of the movie sounds fairly canned and without the use of a subwoofer.
From a supplemental material point of view, things are ported over from the 2004 Special Edition, but the extras still remain pretty light. There are several featurettes on various aspects of the production (produced by Laurent Bouzereau), starting with one entitled "The Script, The Cast." De Palma discusses his thoughts on the script (along with producer Art Linson). It's a retrospective similar to all the other ones before it, revealing the occasional bit of trivia (Costner refused the role of Ness at first) and dated interview footage with the cast save for DeNiro. Everyone talks about what drew them to the script while a bunch of on-set footage plays through the piece. Next is "Production Stories," where De Palma talks about his visual style and more dated cast interview footage follows. Other members of the crew discuss the film, and the only new interview with a cast member (Smith) is revealed, bringing the occasional piece of information. "Reinventing the Genre" is a look at making the film different than your run of the mill gangster film, including some of the death scenes in the film. "The Classic" covers the legacy of the film while "The Men" is a dated featurette from the people. The trailer (in high definition) rounds things out.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are a deal of smaller things that aren't much of anything but when you add them up are a little bit annoying. Aside from the crazy and illogical demise of Malone, a septuagenarian is able to live for hours after he meets his maker, and for God's sake, why can't Costner manage to light a cigarette in the film?
I've never really been that big of a fan of some of these extras, but the audio and video qualities of this HD version of The Untouchables aren't too bad, plus there's a DTS-HD track on here to boot. The movie still remains a modern classic of enjoyable moviemaking, and I'd pull the trigger on this, maybe even the Blu-ray version, if you can still find some copies of it lying around.
Bailiff, please switch the juries before this court renders a verdict and sentence. Court will resume at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.
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Scales of Justice
• The Script, The Cast
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