Special Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, Robert De Niro, Sean Connery
Director: Brian De Palma
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 119 Minutes
Release Date: October 5, 2004

"You wanna get Capone? Here's how you get him--he pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue--THAT'S THE CHICAGO WAY, and that's how you get Capone."

Film ****

Brian De Palma’s movies are always a big treat for me, but have him collaborate with a screenwriter like David Mamet, and you are sure to get a goldmine masterpiece, and that’s exactly what The Untouchables is. The movie likely to be forever remembered as Brian De Palma’s shining moment of filmmaking. One of his most commercially successful movies, it has just about everything you would want in an entertainment, with knockout performances from all of the headlining actors who are at the top of their form. It’s a terrific crime movie, and it’s also a poignant period piece, set during the time of Prohibition and Al Capone. Like all of De Palma’s films, The Untouchables bursts with an elegant look and glorious style. Of all the films made in the last 20 years, this movie has without a doubt done the most superb job in recreating 1930s New York, and knowing that De Palma is a genius at working the camera, a outstanding look is somewhat expected. The is one of the greatest movies to emerge from the 80s, and brilliant achievement for De Palma, whose visual brilliance breathe Mamet’s excellent script to life.

The film is based upon the popular television series of the early 60s. It tells the bold tale of the violent battle between mobster Al Capone, played by Robert De Niro, who engulfs the role of notorious mobster, and determined treasury officer Elliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner. It is the period of Prohibition, and Capone is controlling the flow of illegal alcohol in Chicago. Ness is a dedicated man of the law, and vows to bring an end to Capone’s evil empire by any means. Ness is humiliated early in the movie when an intended liquor raid goes sour, as an informant mistakes a shipment of umbrellas for liquor. Not too soon after this incident, a downbeat Ness encounters street cop Jimmy Malone, played by Sean Connery in an amazing and very deserving Oscar winning performance. Malone is a veteran policeman whose duty is now reduced to patrolling the streets at night. He soon agrees to be Ness’ right hand man and then helps him organize a task force, one to primarily take down illegal liquor houses. In one of the movie’s most memorable lines, Malone explains to Ness the strategy of getting to Capone, “He pulls a knife, you pull gun. He sends one yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way!”

They recruit two other men from the force. They hire on George Stone (Andy Garcia), who is very quick with a gun and even better with an aim, and Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith), a treasury accountant whose isn’t very familiar with the use of a gun. The four men ignite several liquor raids, including a spectacular action sequence where the men acquire horses and join forces with a legion of Canadian Mounties to prevent a shipment of liquor from entering the states. Soon, Capone is big time mad about his profiting product being knocked over, and orders his men to destroy Ness by all means.

Capone’s thugs do strike a bitter blow against the task force, which leads to the grand daddy of all action scenes: the shootout at Grand Central Station. This scene simply has to be seen to be believed. It’s one of the few scenes in movies where to this day, I’m still amazed at how such a sequence was pulled off. Shot entirely in slow motion, the sequence epitomizes how much suspense a single action scene can induce. Shots break out between Ness’ men and Capone’s gang, all the while a baby carriage thrusts down a long flight of steps. You’d never think a movie would even dare to put a baby’s life in danger, but De Palma didn’t hesitate a second to structure a scene that has stood the test of time since then.

Everything from the performances to the production design, to Ennio Morricone’s breathtakingly brilliant musical score all combine to make The Untouchables the punch-packing classic that it has become. I can certainly say that when the names Costner, Connery, and De Niro come to mind, I will always think immediately of this film, as I find it a milestone for all three actors. And of all of the films of Brian De Palma, this one will truly be one of his all time masterpieces of filmmaking. The Untouchables is a one of a kind movie experience that shouldn’t be missed at all!

Video ****

I really have to congratulate Paramount for a job extremely well done. First off, I noticed no major differences between this disc and the original DVD offering, since the first release featured an already breathtaking anamorphic picture. When you take note of the fact that many of Brian De Palma's early films didn't turn up as good as they should have in the video department, and that films from the 80s hardly ever appear as grand as this one does, Paramount deserves as much credit for really doing their best to ensure a knockout looking presentation. Clarity is at its fullest, colors are wonderfully strong and vibrant (especially in the sequence in Canada), and all around detail surround this terrific presentation, which helps in enhancing De Palma's masterful style to full effect.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix gets an added boost of EX mode (quite rare for an 80s release) which makes this re-issue much superior to the original disc's sound performance. Everything, from the dialogue, to the sense assaulting action to Ennio Morricone's spectacular score to the film (one of my all time favorites) all sound better than ever. The two key action sequences, the Canadian border raid and the train station shootout are both purely riveting moments, both in the film itself and for the sound mix.  

Features ***1/2

Paramount has thoughtfully reassembled The Untouchables into a terrific, and much needed Special Collector's Edition release. There are a grand total of 5 documentaries, which can only be viewed individually. "The Script & The Cast", "Production Stories", "Reinventing the Genre" and "The Classic" each reflect specific areas during the production, as well as reflecting certain elements that have made this film a favorite amongst the moviegoing public. Although we're spared a commentary track, I think De Palma offers enough detail about the film in these documentaries. The fifth one is actually the original 1987 featurette, which is quick and to the point, but a nice nostalgic bonus nonetheless. Lastly, a trailer for the film is included, and a dynamite one at that!


The Untouchables will always remain a true high point in Brian De Palma's filmmaking career. And with this excellent new Special Collector's Edition release, this gangster epic has gotten the full DVD treatment that it very much deserves, and it has never looked or sounded greater.

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