|Untouchables, The (Special Collector's Edition)|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 05 October 2004|
Based on the events in Prohibition-era Chicago in the 1930s, “The Untouchables” tells the story of famous gangster Al Capone ( Robert De Niro) and Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner), the treasury officer who, along with his band of “Untouchables” (called so because they refused to take bribes), eventually put Capone behind bars. Capone was one of the most famous inmates at Alcatraz, who eventually died of syphilis while incarcerated. The film begins with the introduction of Capone, who is liked by the press and claims that he is not a violent man. Shortly thereafter, there is a brief scene that demonstrates the violence that has come to define the liquor wars of the time. We then meet Eliot Ness, a family man who is about to have a tough first day on the job. After a failed bust where Ness is made to look a fool in front of the Chicago police, he meets a wise beat cop named Malone (Sean Connery). Ness is sent some interesting help by the bureau in the form of accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith). A frustrated Ness enlists Malone’s help and together they get the fourth member of their team, a young, as yet uncorrupted member of the police force named George Stone (Andy Garcia). The four men go on their first liquor raid and finally score big.
Needless to say, Capone is angered by this bust, again shows his ruthlessness, and the war is on. What results is an attempt by Ness and the others to interdict liquor coming across the border from Canada while Wallace tries to figure out how to catch Capone for income tax evasion. After a thrilling sequence at the border, the Untouchables gain their first key witness. Unfortunately, that witness does not live very long and the group loses its first member to the gang war. Ultimately, the film focuses on the battle between not only law and lawlessness, but on the relationship of these four different men who risk everything to fight a man they know to be corrupt and violent.
A commercial and critical success, “The Untouchables” benefits from brilliant directing by Brian De Palma, excellent writing by famed scribe David Mamet, fine cinematography from Stephen Burum, spot-on period production design from Patrizia Von Brandenstein and wonderful performances from the entire cast. This film more than anything made Costner a big star and Connery was rewarded with an Oscar. De Niro is unflappable as Capone and lends the film the needed petulance, regalness and violence that this man represented. The storytelling is simple yet refined and De Palma introduces some of the most visually stylistic moments of the last 20 years, most notably with the sequence in Chicago’s Union train station that echoes Sergei Eisenstein’s Odessa steps scene from “Potemkin.” Needless to say, this is a very fine film, and easily accessible to all sorts of film lovers.
A side by side comparison of this version with the older DVD, which I happen have, reveals many technical superiorities in the new edition. The transfer is notably crisper, with less distortion in the lines, especially in diagonals and provides greater color clarity. The saturation is nearly the same, but due to the greater crispness of the new transfer, the colors don’t bleed at all, which seems to punch up the color saturation. This is an exceptionally well designed and photographed film, and the transfer helps to accentuate the framing and period aspects. This is an older film with a likewise older print, and while it is generally cleaner than the previous DVD, there are areas where some dust makes an appearance. This tends to be most notable on what is probably the third to last reel of the film. Who knows, maybe someone dropped that can one too many times and it got more nicked up than the others. Overall though, this is a great improvement. The clarity is particularly remarkable in a few instances where the actual pattern and weave of the costume fabric can be seen. The clarity that is necessary for this type of resolution exemplifies just how crisp this new transfer is.
The sound mix is vastly improved, most notably in the dialogue and musical score tracks. Ennio Morricone’s unusual yet brilliant score is punched up at appropriate moments and adds a level of subtlety that would define the soundtrack of any film. The dialogue has been cleaned up considerably, with some previously muddy lines getting the clarity and attention they deserve. It’s always interesting to hear an updated 5.1 channel mix on a film that originally only had stereo tracks. Sometimes the remixers tend to overblow certain elements or put them in an inappropriate channel, but the updated 5.1 EX mix in this case is very good. Let’s be honest, you should never really notice the sound of a film, just like you should never notice the camera movement, acting, music, etc. It’s all there to serve a purpose, but the moment it calls attention to itself, the viewer knows he or she is watching a movie. No such problems with this DVD.
Laurent Bouzereau, renowned documentarian who most recently did the updated interviews for the “Indiana Jones” trilogy, directs the newly updated featurettes, which contain new interviews with director De Palma, cinematographer Burum and actor Smith, along with older interviews with Costner, Connery and Garcia. The interviews from 2004 focus on various aspects of production, intercut with behind-the-scenes footage and on-set interviews with all members of the production. While it’s too bad that Costner and Connery weren’t available for updated interviews, Bouzereau has fashioned a lucid, professional set of featurettes that can either be watched individually or as a whole. What’s missing most are interviews with screenwriter David Mamet and film commentary by director De Palma. Otherwise, considering the film is 17 years old, the updated features are interesting and provide some good information about the casting, writing and directing of the film.
This fantastic film from director De Palma features some of the most memorable sequences ever created on film. With a new DVD edition that has expanded special features, an updated mix and a crisp new transfer, this makes a can’t miss DVD for any film lover.