It’s a fascinating concept to think that at one point in American history that alcohol was illegal and prohibition, yet people still found a way to drink anyway. One of the all time great pictures on this topic is Sergio Leone’s legendary ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA from 1984, and then a few years later THE UNTOUCHABLES brought the roaring 1920s Chicago right back to life thanks not only to DePalma’s hard work in revitalizing this era but also creating it a great good vs evil yarn. There are also some pretty strong elements of the Old West at bay here with police at their wits end with gangsters controlling the city via Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) and one of the lone law enforcers Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) who gets a small group together, including Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery in an Oscar winning performance) and Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) who can not be bought or reasoned with.
Watching it again it reminded me of a really underrated performance in Andy Garcia as George Stone, one of Ness’ later recruits into the group. Not only does he have a no-nonsense attitude with a cool demeanor, he completely owns a moment where with a small service revolver takes a marksman like approach in an already complicated scene at a train station that is one of the movie’s most famous moments.
If there’s only one major caveat to THE UNTOUCHABLES is that I always felt Robert DeNiro was a bit on the weak side as Al Capone and I feel he wasn’t given as much screen time as expected. He has a bit more strength in his final courtroom scenes when he has his “muscle” all around him and I almost wish the movie was longer than its 119 minute run-time to develop Ness better. This weakness also extends to some others in the cast too, including a very young pre-fame Patricia Clarkson here who sadly is given the official title of “Elliot’s Wife” in the end credits.
Even with those quibbles, THE UNTOUCHABLES is pretty great overall. DePalma is at the top of his mainstream game here and I’m glad I viewed the movie again after being in release for 35 (!) years. Paired with David Mamet’s writing and sharp dialogue and Stephen H. Burum’s thrilling cinematography that has a great eye for composition and detail, THE UNTOUCHABLES is a fine example of a 1980s period piece that has held up remarkably well.
About the 4k release:
I have always had issues with the previous versions of THE UNTOUCHABLES on all forms of physical media. I had the misfortune of seeing the movie badly panned & scanned on VHS tape back in the early 90s missing almost half of the anamorphic, 2.39:1 image. I have also been a long time fan of DePalma’s usual collaborator, Stephen H. Burum, who really has a unique lighting and composes well with DePalma’s vision. But for whatever reason, both the DVD, Blu Ray and streaming transfers have all suffered from noise, softness and an overall dull look that made me think something was wrong with the original production. I was even lucky to see THE UNTOUCHABLES in a cinema in the summer of 2020, yet was completely unimpressed with the DCP (Digital Cinema Package) which looked like a blown up DVD.
Thankfully, Paramount has performed a full on 4k restoration, carefully preserved from the original anamorphic 35mm elements with stunning sharpness and colour detail. Mastered in HDR and Dolby Vision, this is a visual triumph including a very healthy use of the frame from filling many characters to the famous split diopter shots (where two characters are both in focus in a close-up with incredible, fine detail). There’s one particular rainy shot where blue and red is separated behind a police station, and it’s a detail I have never noticed before seeing it on disc now. Great care has been taken here to bring a wonderful film-like detail and will hold up on almost any large-screen.
Sound-wise, everything is just fine here in a remastered Dolby Atmos track (which downscaled to 7.1 on my system) but nothing to blow your socks off. Ennio Morricone’s score plays well in the surround channels (including the synth wah-wah of one of his tracks that still makes me cringe) and there are some strong sound effects but the picture quality is certainly the star of this presentation.
There are a few key bonus featurettes on the casting and making of THE UNTOUCHABLES that are entertaining to watch, and as well the original theatrical trailer which REALLY shows the difference in quality over the years. There is also a Digital Copy that once again redeems to Apple TV which is also the same 4k transfer.
Like with the recent BEVERLY HILLS COP 2 4k release, this is real evidence that Paramount and their mastering department truly care about the best visual presentation available and making it look exactly what it would have looked like in a bright, 70mm like presentation back in 1980s cinemas. I am thrilled to recommend this new release of THE UNTOUCHABLES, giving a new life to a movie with a new-found appreciation.
THE UNTOUCHABLES is now available in regular packaging (which is what Paramount PR sent me for review) along with a Steelbook version which also contains the Apple TV Digital Copy. Seek it out!