The Untouchables, 1987.
Directed by Brian De Palma.
Starring Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, Robert De Niro, Sean Connery, and Patricia Clarkson.
Brian De Palma’s classic The Untouchables arrives on 4K looking about as good as it did in theaters 35 years ago. No new extras were commissioned for this release, but Paramount ported over the previous bonus features and included a code for a digital copy.
Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables was overdue for a home video improvement, given the original Blu-ray’s lackluster picture quality, and Paramount has knocked it out of the park for the film’s 35th anniversary with this 4K Ultra HD edition, which arrives in a handsome SteelBook. The studio didn’t create any new bonus features, choosing instead to port over the legacy extras, and there’s no Blu-ray included here, but you do get a code for a digital copy.
Released in 1987, The Untouchables is loosely based on federal agent Eliot Ness’s efforts to bring down notorious gangster Al Capone, who was making a fortune in the 1930s from his illegal liquor business. I say “loosely based” because David Mamet’s script takes a lot of liberties with the historical facts, choosing instead to create his own story that fits the narrative theme of a straight-backed lawman pushed to the limits of his moral code.
Kevin Costner plays Ness, a casting choice that might seem obvious now but which was a bit of a risk back then, since the actor hadn’t become a break-out star yet. Ness leads a group dubbed “the untouchables” by the press because they refuse to take part in the bribery and corruption that was rampant in Chicago at the time. They include: grizzled beat cop Jim Malone (Sean Connery), who helps Ness with a key raid on Capone’s liquor stash; George Stone (Andy Garcia), a top marksman at the police academy; and Oscar Wallace (George Martin Smith), an accountant who’s trying to figure out how to nail Capone for income tax evasion, which is what actually did him in in the end.
The quartet pursues Capone (Robert De Niro) and his men, incurring great personal risk and loss as Ness eyes criminal charges while Wallace works on the income tax angle. Wallace is pressed into duty as an officer, however, forcing him to go outside his comfort zone as he accompanies the others on raids. This is a recurring theme for Ness in the movie: he’s so steadfastly devoted to his cause that he can rally others to join him even at great personal risk.
Thematically, The Untouchables is very much a “good guys versus bad guys” story, complete with a rousing score whenever Ness and his crew score a big win. As a result, he and his nemesis veer into the world of caricature, especially De Niro’s performance as Capone, but it’s all in service of a narrative that’s meant to have a bit of a mythic quality to it. It may not be Mamet’s most clever script, but it gets the job done.
On the video front, Paramount did a wonderful job upgrading this film to 4K. I haven’t seen the Blu-ray version before, but I’ve read that it was plagued by a lot of digital processing that scrubbed the movie of its filmic look. The 4K presentation here is very much in the realm of theatrical quality. It’s likely as close to the original theatrical experience as you’re going to get these days. (I know I say that a lot, but I think 4K represents peak home video for most people. Only the cinephiles with really large screens and high-end systems will benefit from anything past this format.)
Unfortunately, nothing new was commissioned in the way of bonus features. Everything was ported over from the Blu-ray, which in turn had been ported over from the DVD, so the material here shows up window-boxed on your screen. That’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing. Here’s what you’ll find:
• The Script, the Cast (18.5 minutes): De Palma and producer Art Linson discuss how the project came about, which started as a revival of the old Untouchables TV show before pivoting to the version Mamet wrote. They also get into the casting, with an interesting tidbit about how they almost went with Bob Hoskins in the role of Capone. The members of the cast show up in archival on-set interviews.
• Production Stories (17 minutes): We move on to the actual filming process, with another mix of old and new (well, new at the time of the DVD’s release) interviews. I enjoyed hearing how they were able to make late 1980s Chicago look like the early 1930s version of the city.
• Reinventing the Genre (14.5 minutes): A conversation about how the film turns conventional “cops and robbers” movies around, with a particular emphasis on De Palma drawing inspiration from John Ford’s westerns.
• The Classic (5.75 minutes): A look back on how the film impacted the cast’s careers, in particular Kevin Costner and Patricia Clarkson.
• Original Featurette: The Men (5.5 minutes): This is one of those old EPK (electronic press kit) videos that were created way back when to sell movies to theater owners.
The theatrical trailer rounds out the platter.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★