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Paramount Studios presents
The Untouchables: Special Edition (1987)

"If you walk through this door, you're walking into a world of trouble and there's no turning back. Do you understand me?"
- Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: October 04, 2004

Stars: Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, Sean Connery
Other Stars: Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, Richard Bradford, Jack Kehoe, Billy Drago, Patricia Clarkson
Director: Brian De Palma

MPAA Rating: R for (extreme violence, gore, language)
Run Time: 01h:59m:18s
Release Date: October 05, 2004
UPC: 097360504248
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-A-A B+

DVD Review

Typically, cinematic adaptations of television programs range from poor to abysmal, just a couple notches above film adaptations of video games. But one of the biggest exceptions was this wildly successful version of the 1960s crime drama, The Untouchables. Part of what makes it work is that instead of working as a TV homage, it almost completely disregards the series and works to make its own story from the historical events.

In 1930 Chicago, Al Capone (Robert De Niro) is the kingpin of crime, and practically everyone is either in terror of him or taking money from him to turn a blind eye. Young, naïve and idealistic Treasury Special Agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is assigned to the task of enforcing Prohibition against Capone. When he is set up to look like an idiot by the Chicago police, Ness looks for a different way to approach the problem. The answer is in a small group of men that he can trust implicitly, including honest cop Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), new police academy graduate and marksman George Stone (Andy Garcia), and, surprisingly, accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith). They form the title group of Untouchables, men who cannot be bribed or blackmailed away from their mission. But despite attempting to live up to his ideals, Ness finds that he may need to break a few rules himself in order to get Capone behind bars.

Brian De Palma here finally moves on from his seemingly endless series of Hitchcock pastiches, but it's clear that through imitation he has learned a great deal from the master. The climax in Chicago's Union Station is a masterpiece of suspense, though the addition of slow motion may seem to be gilding the lily. Of course, De Palma can't quite resist borrowing, and here he inserts a hardly-disguised tribute to the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin, complete with runaway baby carriage. But besides this, the film is chock full of well-executed setpieces, such as the initial disastrous raid on a warehouse, and a somewhat smoother raid at the Canadian border. And no one who ever sees Capone's tribute to baseball will ever forget it.

Costner does quite well with what turns out to have been a star-making performance; just the year before he had been featured in such dreck as Sizzle Beach, USA. He brings a credible innocence combined with determination to the character and demonstrates a clear understanding of Ness' arc. Connery is essentially Sean Connery, but that's hardly a bad thing. Andy Garcia also is seen early in his career, and puts on a memorable show as the grim-faced marksman quick to take an insult. Charles Martin Smith has the dweeby nebbishe character down to a science, and shows a demonstrable pride in being able to have that character be broadly heroic, not only coming up with the method for getting Capone behind bars but bloodthirstily avenging his friends when appropriate. De Niro is both ingratiating and terrifying as he inhabits Capone's skin, while Billy Drago makes for an incredibly creepy Frank Nitti, hovering around the fringes of the story but seizing the eye whenever he's on screen.

Ennio Morricone's score is fascinating, starting with the driving main title theme. He uses the music to further delineate the characters, such as in Capone's main theme, which overlays smooth strings with harsh and lowbrow brass, mirroring the character's cultural pretensions while making it clear that he's still really just a hoodlum.

While the historicity presented bears only a passing resemblance to reality, the film is a highly entertaining and engaging crime drama. Attorneys will probably be offended at the somewhat ridiculous courtroom sequence; scribe David Mamet should know better, but he's obviously forsaking any kind of realism for the sake of dramatic impact with a broad leavening of irony. As a whole, it's a first-rate crime drama that bears repeated viewings.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is nicely rendered. There are quite a few smoky scenes and they all look fine, without pixelation or problems of any kind. Grain is moderate, and there's a ton of fine detail, allowing one to see every skin defect on Costner's face in HD-like vividness. Most of the film has a cold bluish cast, but this seems to be intentional on De Palma's part. There are occasional nicks and bits of dirt throughout but it genrally looks wonderful.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 English track has good directionality that's particularly evident in shifts during panning sequences. Strings tend to be a little shrill and unnatural sounding, but gunshots have a terrific impact and plenty of surround information. Dialogue is clear throughout. Hiss is not significant. The Dolby stereo tracks, unsurprisingly, don't have the impact of the 5.1 but they appear to be reasonable approximations of the original theatrical mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:03m:11s

Extras Review: The disc features four documentaries and featurettes produced by Laurent Bouzereau. Since the interview segments were all plainly shot at the same time, they really all seem to belong together, as if they were a single documentary totalling nearly an hour in duration. These include recent discussions with De Palma and Charles Martin Smith, together with period interview segments with Costner and Connery. These are packed with information and stories about the inception and creation of the film, as well as an assessment of its impact. Along with a trailer, a behind-the-scenes featurette (5m:26) rounds out the package; this doesn't add a lot to the main extras, but it does contain a little period footage not reused in the main segments.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

One of De Palma's best comes to DVD with some interesting extras and a fine transfer. Recommended.


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