DVD - Image A- Sound A-
SCE DVD - Image B+ Sound A- Extras B+
starring Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, Sean Connery
screenplay by David Mamet
directed by Brian De Palma
by Vincent Suarez Will the real Brian De Palma please stand up?
In his erudite documentary A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, Scorsese identifies four distinct types of directorial personalities. At various times in his career De Palma has, much like the characters that populate his psychosexual thrillers, exhibited multiple personalities: Storyteller (Wise Guys, The Bonfire of the Vanities, Casualties of War); Illusionist (Mission: Impossible, Body Double, Mission to Mars); Smuggler (Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise, Blow Out, Dressed to Kill); and Iconoclast (Carrie, Scarface, Raising Cain). With the bold, bloody, brilliant, beautiful, and finally bravura The Untouchables, De Palma found the perfect vehicle for seamlessly blending the best of all these tendencies.
The Untouchables is, first and foremost, a grand piece of storytelling. Although it may take extensive liberties with the factual account of gangster Al Capone's downfall at the hands of Treasury Officer Eliot Ness, De Palma and screenwriter David Mamet have crafted a hugely satisfying saga that manages to feel nostalgic (for both the Prohibition era and the 1960s, which spawned its namesake TV series) yet current (as right-wing, pro-G-Men fantasy in the waning moments of the Reagan era). "The untouchables" are, of course, the celebrated group of officers hand-picked by Ness to form a unit free from Capone's corrupting influence upon the Chicago police force. Malone (Sean Connery), the grizzled beat cop and admitted tutor to Ness, recruits the untainted sharpshooter Stone (Andy Garcia) straight from the police academy and the federal accountant Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) from behind Ness's desk. These moral crusaders stand in counterpoint to the brutal Capone (Robert De Niro) and his vicious henchmen, including legendary assassin Frank Nitti (Billy Drago). Though De Niro's soliloquies are memorable (as is his explosive violence), Capone's presence does not permeate and shape the film in the manner that its poster artwork--nicely replicated on the DVD cover--suggests. Rather, Mamet's script resists the fancy-but-hollow banter typical of his plays and self-directed films in favour of two elegant refrains that articulate the film's true arc; to suggest that Ness is, indeed, touchable.
In impressing upon Ness that his by-the-book mode of law enforcement is insufficient against the unscrupulous Capone, Malone frequently implores, "What are you prepared to do?" Superficially it would seem that the cost for Ness, motivated by Malone's murder (a great death scene, which surely nailed down Connery's deserved Oscar), is the abandonment of his beloved laws. More tragically, however, it is the desertion of his oft-repeated and most hallowed belief--"It's nice to have a family"--that represents the real sacrifice for Ness.
The film's most elaborate set-piece, a train station shootout in which Ness and Stone prevent the kidnapping of the key witness in Capone's tax-evasion trial, drives this home. While awaiting the arrival of the bookkeeper, Ness can't help but assist a single mother in pulling her baby carriage up the station's huge staircase. The moment when Ness releases his grip on the carriage so he can fire upon Capone's men is the shattering answer to Malone's queries. Staged as a homage to the famous "Odessa Steps" sequence from Sergei Eisenstein's silent Soviet classic Battleship Potemkin, complete with sailors, it's De Palma at his masterful best. With its dramatic import, visual flair, and sly nod to the scholarly viewer, it's also the ultimate synthesis of Scorsese's four "personalities." Originally published: February 16, 2001.
Ever the supreme stylist, De Palma's The Untouchables has style to burn, all of which is on abundant display in this fine DVD. The 16x9, 2.35:1 transfer only occasionally falters (challenging elements like the garish reds of Capone's hotel are amazingly stable while seemingly more manageable details like the street sign outside Malone's apartment show mild signs of artifacting), while reinforcing that few directors (Kurosawa, Leone, and Lynch among them) rival De Palma in his use of the Panavision frame. Also exquisitely rendered is De Palma's vast array of high-angle, low-angle, crane, and tracking shots, each lending the film its keenly balanced flamboyancy and grandeur. The Untouchables is certainly one of the best-looking films of the '80s, and Stephen Burum's rich cinematography, William Elliot's elaborate sets, and Giorgio Armani's to-die-for suits all look better than ever.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack may not be the most dynamic for an action film, but it suits the picture nicely; again, only occasionally is fidelity lacking. Best served by the track is the textured score by The Maestro, Ennio Morricone. I've always been a sucker for Morricone's alternately romantic and bombastic arrangements. The crescendos reached during the end titles of The Untouchables, in all their 5.1 glory, induce tears. Disappointingly, Paramount's recent foray into supplements does not extend to this DVD. The only "extra" to speak of is a rather dull letterboxed trailer featuring, oddly enough, cues from Morricone's score for The Mission in 2.0 stereo sound. Also supplied are static menus with murky, downright ugly images. Arguably De Palma's masterpiece, the film deserves more. Still, for an excellent presentation of the film itself, you can't touch this.
THE DVD - SPECIAL COLLECTOR'S EDITION
by Bill Chambers Everybody rags on Paramount for not doing enough with their catalogue titles, but I think it's pretty clear by now that they were testing the waters with their phenomenally cheap list prices ($9.99 for most new releases of golden oldies) to see what would be worth putting out again down the line. I have to admit it makes a certain amount of business sense, even if I'm no happier than you are about having to double-dip. The studio kicks off a wave of Special Collector's Edition reissues this month with Deep Impact (righting the non-anamorphic wrong of the movie-only release), the Friday the 13th octet (it's pretty righteous), and two perennials, Footloose (thanks but no thanks) and The Untouchables. Recycling the previous disc's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, The Untouchables DVD still suffers from too much shimmer--the word "Racine" on the street sign across from Malone's apartment is so jittery that it's bound not to register as a significant plot detail--and flecking, with the first scene in Ness's office looking like they just scooped it up off the floor. Shadow delineations are more precise this go-round, but that's probably something we can attribute to improvements in encoding technology. On the other hand, the new Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track is a definite step up: Ennio Morricone's opening theme sounds spectacularly immersive, as though you're there in the centre of the orchestra pit. Though no other aspect of this mix is as intoxicating as the score, voices and foley effects boast of increased fidelity. (Unfortunately, ADR is still pretty easy to spot.)
Four new Laurent Bouzereau featurettes grace the platter. In "The Script, The Cast" (19 mins.), De Palma says he became interested in David Mamet's screenplay because he was desperate for a commercial hit--nobody involved in the project, including De Palma, had any reverence for the TV series on which the film was purportedly being based. Alternative casting, especially the matter of Bob Hoskins's pay-or-play deal, is discussed with refreshing directness; in some parallel universe there exists a version of The Untouchables starring Mel Gibson (as Ness), Hoskins (as Capone), and Andy Garcia as Nitti. "Production Stories" (17 mins.) segues from vintage interview footage with De Palma in which he says he modelled his 1930s Chicago on Nazi Germany to a related anecdote from cinematographer Stephen H. Burum concerning the film's compositional ethic. Burum also gets the last word in with an illuminating breakdown of the centrepiece heart-to-heart between Ness and Malone in a church. "Reinventing the Genre" (14 mins.) ties The Untouchables to the John Ford tradition and features surprising backstory on the film's Montana and train-station sequences, both of which were apparently improvised on location. "The Classic" (6 mins.) indulges De Palma's nostalgia for the film's buzz-heavy theatrical run as well as his palpable cynicism towards its boffo success. All of the principals save the delightful Charles Martin Smith appear in these newly-produced mini-docs exclusively via outtakes lifted from the 1987 EPK "The Men" (5 mins.), which pales in comparison to Bouzereau's efforts but is certainly more substantial than your average HBO First Look special. "The Men" and The Untouchables' original trailer round out the disc. For what it's worth, the familiar cover art has been cheesily festooned with "bullet holes." Never drink and Photoshop.
119 minutes; R; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; CC; English subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Paramount
- SCE DVD
119 minutes; R; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1 EX, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; CC; English, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Paramount