UNTOUCHABLES, THE - Blu-ray review

...hopefully, a whole new generation of viewers can discover how cool this film is.


The shootout scene between Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner), George Stone (Andy Garcia) and the hired thugs of Al Capone (Robert De Niro) in a train station whilst bullets fly and a baby carriage careens down stairs is a truly classic moment of cinematography and filmmaking. The film contains other truly memorable action-packed sequences, but the slow motion action that takes place during those few moments and the final build up to Garcia shooting a gunman while lying on his back is a scene that breathes cool and classic. While I usually reserve talking about visual moments until my Video section of my reviews, this moment is indicative of the rest of "The Untouchables," a film that is classic and incredibly cool. With screen legends Sean Connery and Robert De Niro joining up to work alongside the venerable actors Garcia, Costner, Charles Martin Smith and others, "The Untouchables" stands as one of the best depictions of the Prohibition era.

When Jim Malone (Sean Connery) stands with his shotgun and proclaims in a derogatory tone about an Italian that "Brings a knife to a gun fight," "The Untouchables" reminds the audience that before his retirement, Sean Connery was one of the greatest actors to grace the screen. His turn as the Irish beat-cop who joins Eliot Ness' crime-fighting force built with the single purpose of bringing down Al Capone's empire is one of the actor's better performances in a role other than James Bond. There are many other moments during the film where Connery's overpowering presence commands the screen and a lot of the reason that I give "The Untouchables" the credit I do for being cool is due to the British actor's shoot first, ask questions later performance. When Malone is brought down with a hail of Tommy Gun launched projectiles, a true feeling of sadness was felt.

I could regurgitate scenes and go on and on about the wonderful scenes crammed between the opening credits and final crawl, but that would get both repetitive and dull. By pulling apart individual moments, the whole plot would be lost and my purpose of reviewing the film would be completely forgotten. I could go on to describe moments when De Niro is his usual bad-assed self and how his beating the skull of a man in with a baseball bat was just vicious. After that, I could talk about Garcia's performance as an Italian rookie cop who earns the trust of Malone and becomes a close and trusted friend of Ness. After touching on Garcia and De Niro, I could move on to talk about how solid Costner was during the Eighties; until "Waterworld" and "The Postman" brought shame to his name (I still love "Waterworld"). If I kept going on and on about these things, I'd almost forget the solid job done by Charles Martin Smith as an accountant who learns he loves to tote a firearm and take down the bad guys with more than an accounting ledger. If I did all of the previously mentioned banter, we'd be on the third page.

So getting back to the plot, Eliot Ness is a family man with a loving wife and is placed in charge of a law enforcement entity who must stop Al Capone's illegal dealings with involves killing and illegally importing alcohol. Capone owns much of the police force and pays off an equal number of politicians and officials who turn the other way and refuse to bring down the crime kingpin. Ness finds a trusty and streetwise ally in Jim Malone, an Irish cop who is nearing retirement and has worked entirely as a beat cop. With so many dirty cops on the force, they turn to the police academy and enroll the aid of the young, motivated and talented George Stone; who is the best shot of his class. An accountant is sent to help and Agent Oscar Wallace works with Ness to try and pin tax evasion charges on the hard to prosecute Capone, who is tremendously wealthy, but has no monies tied to his name from the various companies that are part of his empire.

Blood is spilled and Ness begins to slowly take down the illegal doings of Capone's empire. They finally capture a ledger that is coded, but contains information that is enough to nail Capone for tax fraud. An informant promises to speak and take the stand against Capone and state that he is indeed receiving money from various companies. However, Al Capone is a violent man who is not afraid to enact revenge of greater magnitude than what has been done to him and Capone delivers losses to Ness's force of "Untouchables." Finally, when it seems that all is lost, the location of the fleeting informant becomes known to both Ness and Capone and a final confrontation and impending court battle will pit the two men against each other and either clear Capone or set him behind bars. The superbly done train station massacre and climactic moment when Ness outs a man hired to bribe the jury brings closure to this incredible story.

"The Untouchables" is a classic film. With Costner at the top of his game, Connery being cooler than ever and De Niro busting skull caps with a Louisville Slugger, there is no denying that the cast assembled for this film is about as good as it gets. Credit surely must be given to director Brian De Palma for his masterful direction in bringing out the best in his A-List cast and delivering a superb looking period piece that is still the best Hollywood has delivered in taking a look at the time when Al Capone ruled Chicago and it was not legal to purchase beer in the United States. The film has great pacing, storytelling, acting and visual flair. "The Untouchables" is often forgotten to the likes of "The Godfather" and "Goodfellas" when one thinks of the all-time great mob films. Those two pictures dealt with the mob from the perspective of the criminals, whereas "The Untouchables" rides shotgun with the good guys. This film is just as capable as "Goodfellas" in delivering the goods and doesn't fall too far behind "The Godfather" when one discusses the classics.

Patrizia Von Brandenstein served as visual consultant on "The Untouchables" and helped Director Brian De Palma, Art Director William A. Elliot and Director of Photographer Stephen H. Burum to create a fine looking period piece based around Prohibition and Depression era America. I opened up my review by discussing the slow motion action sequence where Kevin Costner has to save a falling baby carriage, while disposing of a few hit men and stand among a few missed gunshots sent his way. This scene is truly poetry in motion and, in my opinion, one of the greatest shot action sequences. If it were not for this singular sequence that is neither hectic, nor sluggish, then I am not sure that I would hold "The Untouchables" in the same high regard. This is a film that is just as slick and cool as a film can be and Connery, De Niro, Costner and others much share the praise with the film's solid visuals.

Thankfully, Paramount's 2.35:1 presentation of the film on Blu-ray is very nice. Mastered with the AVC MPEG-4 codec, the level of detail and color reproduction is just as good as another film from its release batch, "The Warriors." The textures are all highly detailed, from the wools and tweeds of the clothing to the rugged features of Connery's face; "The Untouchables" looks superb. Browns, grays and other neutral colors were en vogue during the Prohibition, so there isn't a wealth of coloring in the film, but every color handled by the transfer is vivid and perfectly saturated. The blue skies and reds that appear throughout the film look very good. In perfect contrast to the brightly lit interiors and exteriors are the more darkly lit scenes. These two are superb and feature deep black levels and never lose any detail. The film does have a few moments of film grain, but the general condition of the source materials is very good.

Paramount has routinely included multiple tracks on their high definition releases and has done well in giving love to both the Dolby Digital camp and the DTS camp. This title features an English 5.1 channel Dolby Digital EX transfer and an English 6.1 DTS mix. Comparing the two soundtracks, the DTS selection does feel a little heavier and fuller in sound, especially when any bass is present or when the action is at its liveliest. Considering the film is now twenty years old, the soundtrack still holds up nicely. Rear surrounds are used sparingly and typically only kick in during the most action-packed scenes. The film's score by Ennio Morricone finds presence in the rear surrounds at times, but this echoes what is heard in the corresponding front channels and is hard to pick out, unlike the gunfire and other effects that is far easier to pick out from the front three channels. The level of bass is good, but aside from two or three scenes, nowhere near as prevalent as more modern films. Finally, dialogue is quite clean and even Connery's accent doesn't make for any hard to discern words.

"The Untouchables" was released as a Special Collector's Edition on DVD a couple of years back. The supplements contained on that release have migrated to the high definition era and are shown in standard definition on the Blu-ray release. Most of the supplements contained on the platter are part of a making of documentary that is quartered down into parts. The first part, The Script, The Cast (18:32) features vintage moments with the director and the cast and a few more recent moments with De Palma as they detail how the film's story and cast came together. Connery and Costner are in costume, as their segments were taken during the making of the film. The second part, Production Stories (17:19) moves away from the hardships and efforts in assembling the men that would act in the film and looks more at the hardships in reproducing the corrupted world of Prohibition era Chicago. This supplement features the film's Director of Photography, Stephen H. Burum. Interestingly, Burum wanted to do the film in black and white.

The second half of the documentary moves away from the production elements and looks at the art of filmmaking. Reinventing the Genre (14:24) discusses how the Mob/Gangster films were done so many times that De Palma and his band of filmmakers looked to bring a John Ford feeling to the picture and give a grand feeling to the picture. The fourth and final quarter of the documentary, The Classic (5:41) is a short and sweet look at the film's score as done by Ennio Morricone. The visually strong film features a compelling score by the veteran composer and the Director of Photographer steps in to discuss his views on the sound of the film. Two other supplements round off the offerings. Original Featurette: The Men (5:26) and the Theatrical Trailer are the last two selections on the Extras menu. "The Men" is a five minute EPK bit from the film's release window and the trailer is the only extra presented in high definition.

Closing Comments:
It has been a couple years since I last sat down and enjoyed "The Untouchables" and I was quickly reminded at how cool Connery and the film itself were. In its high definition glory, I had to watch the Union Station sequence a couple of times. It looked just so damn cool. Connery and De Niro were already legends and their performances were as expected. Costner was a lesser known actor at the time, but he stands strong among his two better known co-stars and showed that given the right material, he is a potent leading man. The Blu-ray release of this classic film looks and sounds very good. The picture quality only suffers from a minimal amount of film grain and a couple minor instances of softness. The sound is mostly contained in the front channels, but very good given the vintage. The extras are mostly comprised of an hour long documentary, but it is worth taking a look at. Overall, this is a very nice package for the twenty year old film and hopefully, a whole new generation of viewers can discover how cool this film is.


Film Value