The Untouchables: Special Collector’s Edition
April 29, 2005
Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987) had all the makings of a powerhouse production destined for greatness. It featured a screenplay written by legendary playwright David Mamet, expert cinematographer Stephen Burum (Rumble Fish) was behind the camera, master composer Ennio Morricone (Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy) was scoring the film and Robert De Niro and Sean Connery were signed on to play larger-than-life characters. The result was an exciting, action-packed epic that helped revitalize De Palma’s struggling career and earn Connery is first Academy Award. Paramount previously released this movie on a bare-bones DVD with a transfer that was lacking. This new Special Collector’s Edition includes a collection of extras but is it really worth double-dipping?
It is 1930 and gangster Al Capone (De Niro) controls most of the illegal business in Chicago with a ruthless, iron fist. After a ten-year old girl is killed in a gang-related incident, Federal Treasury Agent Eliot Ness (Costner) is brought in to clean up the city. His first attempt is an embarrassing failure so he tries a different approach. He decides to form his own task force of three men to help him take down Capone and his empire. He picks a veteran beat cop named Malone (Connery), who knows the city and becomes Ness’ mentor. He also selects Stone, a cop fresh out of the academy and ace shot with a pistol. Rounding out the group is Wallace (Smith), a nebbish accountant who figures out a way to nail Capone. Together, they form an incorruptible group who are determined to bring Capone to justice.
Rounding out his trilogy of memorable cameos in the ‘80s (Brazil and Angel Heart), Robert De Niro put on the pounds again (he first and most famous did for Raging Bull) and transformed himself into Capone. Like Tony Montana (Al Pacino) in Scarface (1983), Capone is surrounded by luxury and opulence but is still just a cruel thug at heart. In the few scenes that he has, De Niro makes them count and it is a thrill to hear a great actor say Mamet’s tough-guy dialogue.
Mamet’s dialogue crackles and pops with intensity and provides many of the film’s classic scenes, perhaps none more memorable than Malone’s famous speech to Ness where he tells him how to get Capone. “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.” Sean Connery delivers this speech with the passion and conviction that rightful earned him an Oscar. The other scene of classic Mamet dialogue is Capone’s infamous dinner table monologue where he talks about team work before braining a hapless flunky with a baseball bat for not being a part of the “team.”
Kevin Costner is wisely cast as the stiff, idealistic Ness. He’s the least interesting character and he plays the role straight, trying not to go the obvious heroic route. This allows Connery to rightfully shine as the aging cop torn between riding out his remaining time and retire alive or making a difference with Ness and his crew. Connery shows what a once great actor can do with the right material and this results in a truly inspired performance—arguably the veteran actor’s last great one.
Brian De Palma’s stylish direction is perfect for this epic story: long, uninterrupted takes, slow motion and excellent composition with the widescreen format. This all culminates in the much-talked about/celebrated train station shoot-out which was a shameless homage to a famous sequence in the legendary film, Battleship Potemkin (1925). It’s a bravura sequence that is beautifully orchestrated by De Palma as he builds the tension leading up to the shoot-up for what seems like an unbearable eternity. The entire sequence is a brilliant lesson in editing and camerawork. Although, De Palma does go a little over-the-top (even for him) with the Ness-Frank Nitti (Drago) show down at the end, which features the director’s obligatory homage to Alfred Hitchcock.
“The Script, The Cast” examines how the film came together. At the time, De Palma was coming off two unsuccessful films and was looking for a project to put him back on the map. The veteran director appears in brand new interview footage while the cast is represented in ones done during filming.
“Production Stories” focuses on the attention to detail and how De Palma and his crew recreated Depression-era Chicago. Location scouting and production design all contributed to the period authenticity.
“Re-inventing the Genre” examines how De Palma tweaked the gangster genre with the border raid sequence which he staged as a homage to John Ford westerns. De Palma’s style is examined, in particular Malone’s death and the train station shoot-out.
“The Classic” examines Ennio Morricone’s fantastic score for the movie and briefly touches upon the incredible success the movie enjoyed when it was released in theatres.
There is also the original featurette, “The Men” that was a standard promo press kit done back in the day.
Finally, there is theatrical trailer.
The Untouchables is one of those rare big-budget, star-studded blockbusters that actually works. All of the right elements came together at just the right time and place and resulted in an incredibly entertaining motion picture. Paramount has assembled a decent selection of extras and the transfer looks quite good. This is an excellent disc definitely worth adding to your collection.