Brian DePalma - once upon a time the man was king, but alas, that time is long past now. Simply put, no other director in history (aside maybe from John Carpenter) has ever fallen so quickly from the status of genius auteur to utter hack. His filmography from the past fifteen years is made up of disasters to rival Ed Wood. Bonfire of the Vanities, Raising Cain, Mission to Mars, Snake Eyes, Mission Impossible, Femme Fatale. Say them and shudder, let the crap roll off your tongue.
With this overwhelming avalanche of shit it might be hard to remember how great he once was, but like John Carpenter it only takes a look at his old films to act like an incantation against what we have before us today. Scarface, Carrie, The Fury, Blowout, Casualties of War, Carlito's Way, Body Double, Dressed to Kill, Sisters, and of course The Untouchables, a brilliant shining jewel in the center of king DePalma's fallen crown.
Based on the 50's TV show of the same name, The Untouchables is about the urban warfare of 1930's prohibition era Chicago. Eliot Ness (played by pre-asshole Kevin Costner) is brought in by the federal government to take down Al Capone when it becomes clear that the city police are too corrupt to do a thing about it. At first it seems the task is impossible. Capone rules the city with an iron, bloodstained fist. However, with the help of honest beat cop Jim Malone, he gathers together a group of incorruptible cops and feds to take down Capone.
The Untouchables is built on its cast. It's simply impossible to think of anyone else filling these roles and equally impossible to think of the movie working without one of them. Kevin Costner is such a joke now (Open Range withstanding) that it's hard to remember just what made him so popular in the first place. Watching Elliot Ness slowly losing his boy scout ideals as he becomes a hardened fighter is fascinating to watch. Sean Connery gives the performance of his career as Ness's mentor Jim Malone. There has been a recent sentiment that he did not deserve the Oscar he won for the performance. That's just flat out bullshit. He embodies Malone from his first bristly meeting with Costner, to his unforgettable monologue on how to beat Capone, from his ingenious methods of interrogation, to the final snarling "What are you prepared to do about it?" It's an incredible thing to watch. I've always wondered why Andy Garcia didn't have a bigger career, crap film choices aside, in his early films like this and Godfather III he has a hungry ferocity that's uniquely his own. Who else could have gone up against Connery and not looked ridiculous? The final member of the team, Oscar Wallace, played by Charles Martin Smith, is often overlooked, which is easy to understand given he's surrounded by four huge stars in huge performances, but his quiet moral center is perfectly played to a "T", just try to think of the movie without him.
Finally there is Robert DeNiro. Many have accused this performance of going over the top. They are wrong. This performance goes over the top, down the other side, finds a bigger mountain, and then goes over the top of that just for good measure. He doesn't simply chew the scenery, he sucks it all down like a miniature black hole who has somehow ended up in the film. Saying the opening words to his Baseball speech is a sure way to get a smile out of any self respecting movie geek. Bigger then life doesn't really seem to cover it. His performance is simply like Jack Nicholson's Joker in the original Batman - it either works for you or you think its a disgusting slice of rancid ham. Its just a matter of taste, but for me it works.
The action is also top notch. The train station sequence, which is ironically now probably more famous then the Odessa steps sequence it pays tribute to, is one of the most startling, forget-to-breathe gunfights unrivaled until the original Matrix. From the shoot out in the Canadian Rockies to the final rooftop stalk with Frank Nitti, the action keeps upping the ante until it soars above everything else.
Finally there is Ennio Morricone's score. If you've read any of my reviews on this site, you know my opinion of the man's work. Simply put the guy's a genius, and his work on The Untouchables ranks with his best, almost making a John Williams level of instant memorability.
To put it simply The Untouchables is cool. Sean Connery? Cool. Robert DeNiro? Cool. The action? Cool. The score? Cool. The Design. Super Cool. The Untouchables is the sort of movie that turns film fans into film geeks, and film geeks into raving lunatics who can only speak monosyllabically as I demonstrated above. See it. And if you've already seen it? Buy it.
Unfortunately this DVD release for The Untouchables is not cool. Oh it's not bad, but its not up to par with what that a film of this caliber deserves. The transfers for both video and audio are perfect. Video is in 2.35:1, Sound in Dolby 5.1 EX, Dolby 2.0 surround, and French 2.0.
There are no commentary tracks which is a shame since DePalma is still an interesting speaker no matter how badly his movie making skills have degraded. Instead we get six features of varying quality, starting off with "The Script, The Cast." which has new interviews with DePalma, and Art Linson the producer, and archive interviews with the cast. It's an average feature, with a few interesting anecdotes (including the alternate possible casting of Bob Hoskins as Al Capone?) but nothing more. "Production Stories" is dominated by cinematographer Stephen H. Burrum, it's interesting if you like to hear cinematographers talk. All others should steer clear.
"Reinventing the Genre" is probably the best feature on the disc, for most people. DePalma more or less does a commentary as he discusses the best parts of the movie. Unfortunately the effect of the documentary is that you wish he had just taken the time to do a Goddamn commentary. "The Classic" however, is the best featurette on the disc for a raving Ennio Morricone super fan like me. It's a short feature, barely over five minutes, but it is still nice to see the master get his due.
Rounding out the disc is the short promotional feature "The Men", shot around the time of the film. Its short and promotional and really not that interesting. Steer clear of this one. Last but not least is a cool little Theatrical Trailer.
Like I said not bad per se, but a lot less then I expected.
Reviewed By: Bryce Wilson