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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 1/18/01

The Untouchables
1987 (2001) - Paramount

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Untouchables Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/D-

Specs and Features

119 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:03:09, in chapter 15), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

"You wanna get Capone? Here's how you get him - he pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send of one his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way... and that's how you get Capone."

Brian De Palma's The Untouchables is a classic gangster film through and through. From its extravagant set design, recapturing prohibition-era Chicago, to its exciting Tommy-gun shoot-outs, all the way to the hot jazz score by Ennio Morricone, this is the way they used to make gangster pictures. And the gangsters are so deliciously prototypical, that they do everything except say, "You'll never get me, copper! See?" with all of the nasally gusto of James Cagney. To the uninitiated, this sounds all too cartoonish, however it absolutely works. David Mamet's script is serious, but old school enough to tip its hat to the mobster films of yesteryear, while De Palma's style (and stellar performances by Robert De Niro and Sean Connery) rescues the film from self-consciousness and camp.

Between the years of 1919 and 1933, the Volstead Act ruled the land, and alcohol was illegal to sell and consume. Not a popular law, many Americans decided to still take a drink now and then. But the question was, how did they have access to these illegal substances? Al Capone (Robert De Niro), Chicago's most reputed gangster, headed a multi-million dollar operation that supplied the city with illegal hooch. And as any self-respecting gangster boasted, nothing and no one stood in the way of his business. Fed up with the state of affairs in Chicago, the U.S. Treasury Department sent wunderkind Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) to dry up the corrupt city. Full of lofty ideals and high expectations, Ness gathered a crackerjack team of cops (labeled "The Untouchables" by the media, for their fearless attitude toward the Mafia) to help him wipe out the criminal element. As The Untouchables grew more and more successful stopping Capone's shipments, the danger they faced quickly elevated to extreme proportions. Any self-respecting American knows full well that Capone went down in the end, but those unfamiliar with history might be surprised to learn how he was actually brought to justice.

While there are some great performances in The Untouchables, Kevin Costner is a real liability to this film. He drones through his portrayal of Eliot Ness as if he were reading most of his lines, and his facial language and reactions are so forced, that they seem unnatural and silly. While I will admit that he didn't always have the best lines ("Okay, gentlemen - let's do some good!"), there were many other opportunities for him to show off his acting chops, but he performed as if he were on Prozac. Not to worry - Sir Sean Connery turns in an Oscar-winning performance (as Untouchable member Jimmy Malone) that more than makes up for Costner's narcolepsy. Malone is a bull-headed old street cop who's willing to bend the rules a little if it means bringing down the bad guys. Connery gets all the best lines, and doesn't let one opportunity pass him by to make the performance count.

The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of The Untouchables on DVD is generally very pleasing. Fine picture detail is normally good, but the overall image seems ever so slightly on the soft side. Colors and skin tones are usually accurate, but suffer from a little in some of the darker scenes. Compression artifacting is never bothersome thanks to the use of the dual-layer disc format, and the source print appears very clean. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is generally engaging, but dialog can tend toward a slightly boxy, congested tone and the overall track sounds a bit veiled. However, the sweeping, jazzy score is nicely mixed and the entire soundstage is used to convey a sense of depth. Unfortunately, the only extra is the film's theatrical trailer (Paramount wanted to do more with this title, but other factors prevented the addition of more special edition materials). Still, this is a fine effort by Paramount, and it's certainly the best I've ever seen this film look and sound.

Tipping its hat to the age of more flamboyant gangster films, The Untouchables contains a nice blend of dramatic storytelling and extravagant style. David Mamet's script is snappy, De Palma's style is in full evidence and Connery steals the show. Load up the ol' Tommy gun and pop in this disc. Just keep your mitts off of the hooch!

Greg Suarez
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