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They don't make movies like The Untouchables any more. Brian De Palma's gripping tale of a Chicago police team trying to take on Al Capone is one of the best crime movies ever made. With stellar writing, superb directing, and an all-star cast, The Untouchables feels both modern and timeless.
Kevin Costner stars as Elliott Ness, a Treasury Department agent tasked with cutting down on alcohol bootlegging (this was during Prohibition, mind you). And Robert De Niro is Al Capone, the man behind the illegal alcohol trade, as well as many other things besides. Ness tries and fails to rally local law enforcement to his cause. It's only when he teams with veteran cop Malone (Sean Connery, in an Oscar-winning role) and forms a small squad of his own, dubbed "the Untouchables" because they are the only people in the city who cannot be bribed by the mob.
The Untouchables is fantastic on many different levels. It all starts with the script, written by famous playwright David Mamet. Mamet is known for his fast-paced, overlapping dialogue and his sharp, memorable lines. Here he eases up on the rat-a-tat rhythm of the dialogue, instead allowing each character to showcase a set of very memorable lines.
Brian De Palma adds another level. De Palma's career jumps from confident and assured (Sisters, Carrie, Mission: Impossible) to downright embarrassing (Snake Eyes, Mission To Mars), but here he knocks the ball right out of the park. He lets the material speak for itself, and then adds a cinematic touch to make the whole piece move. And, of course, he's responsible for the famous Battleship Potemkin homage during the climax that still provides edge of your seat tension to this day.
The cast bring it all to life. Kevin Costner is eager and sincere in this role, playing Ness with his heart on his sleeve. It's a reminder of how good of an actor he used to be. Sean Connery is an incredible presence, world-weary but not without hope. It's one of his most nuanced and brilliant performances. Andy Garcia and Patricia Clarkson are memorable, but don't get enough screen time to really show how talented they are. And then, of course, there's De Niro, playing Capone to the hilt, making himself felt throughout, even when he's not on the screen.
And the final piece of the puzzle is the haunting score by Ennio Morriconne. Morricone, most famous for penning the scores for A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, is one of the world's most versatile composers and provides a tense, lingering soundtrack that perfectly complements the image on the screen.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Paramount Pictures presents The Untouchables in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in an AVC/MPEG-4 encoded 1080p transfer. I was quite literally shocked to see how good this movie looked in high definition. The film came out in 1988, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if someone told me it had come out in 2007. The colors are rich, bright, and solid. Shadow delineation is excellent. Detail level is off the charts. This is not only the best The Untouchables has ever looked, but it also better-looking than a good majority of HD discs of movies from any time period. The image quality alone demands that this Blu-ray be purchased and enjoyed over and over.
Nothing's perfect, and in the case of The Untouchables, it's the Dolby Digital-EX 5.1 and DTS 6.1 mixes. Morricone's score sounds great in the high end, but the bass is lacking. Gunshots are often muted and lacking power, and for a surround mix, there's not much directionality. This is the one aspect of the disc that could use a serious overhaul.
Paramount has ported over all of the special features found on the latest special edition DVD. All but the theatrical trailer are in high definition.
The Script, The Cast: Brian De Palma discusses the origin of the film, mentioning that he took the job to get in good with a studio so he could finance his preferred projects. There was a lot of talk of moving away from the television series and making the movie its own beast. There are also some vintage interviews with the cast.
Production Stories: A look at the film's sets, vehicles, costumes, and designs.
Reinventing The Genre: A discussion of how Brian De Palma's cinematic techniques shaped the film.
The Classic: A wrap-up look at the post-production process and release. Morriconne's score, the film's release, success, and legacy are all highlighted here.
The Men: A short vintage featurette.
Theatrical Trailer: In HD, but not very good-looking.
The Untouchables is an undeniable classic, and this Blu-ray disc does it justice with reference picture. The sound and extras aren't as good, but still far from bad. This is a must-see movie on a must-own disc. Highly Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.
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