Looking back on history, we have a way of making the average person appear exceptional. This isn’t to suggest that there are no remarkable people, but that humans have a way of memorializing things so that good guys become famous and bad guys become infamous. This is amplified further when stories from history are adapted by already seemingly larger-than-life individuals and are then placed on the big screen in cinemas. Such is the case with Brian De Palma’s crime drama classic The Untouchables, written by David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross), inspired by the book written by Oscar Fraley and *the* Eliot Ness, and featuring the talents of Kevin Costner (3 Days to Kill), Sean Connery (Highlander), Andy Garcia (Ocean’s Eleven), Charles Martin Smith (Deep Impact), and Robert De Niro (The Intern). In honor of the 35th anniversary of The Untouchables, Paramount Pictures is releasing a first-time 4K UHD edition in physical and digital formats, each format to include all previous legacy bonus materials.
During the Prohibition Era, gangster Al Capone (De Niro) rules the streets of Chicago with a mix of charm and fear. In an attempt to curtail Capone’s influence, American Prohibition Agent Eliot Ness (Costner) is sent to Chicago to remove Capone, but it would be a task easier said than done. In order to remove a man whose influence spreads into even the justice system, Ness gathers a small band of men to handle the case: Officer Jim Malone (Connery), financial analyst Oscar Wallace (Smith), and a police trainee named George Stone (Garcia). Between the four of them, they start to zero in on Capone, but a man of that stature, with his influence and violent tendencies, isn’t going to go down without a fight.
Moderation is key, whereas temperance, too often, is not. There are, of course, situations in which total abstinence is the best option, but, in the majority of cases, simple moderation can ensure balance. This was not the mindset of the Temperance Movement of the 19th and 20th Centuries which sought the banishment of all liquors from legal consumption. This movement won in the U.S. with the addition of the 18th Amendment (ratified January 1919; took effect January 1920) to the Constitution which, according to Section 1, “…the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.” This was repealed by President Roosevelt in December 1933 with the 21st Amendment, but that meant for roughly 13 years, the only way one could imbibe alcohol was to either make it yourself for personal consumption or buy it illegally. Bootlegging would bring the rise of NASCAR, but, first, it would give rise to a criminal element that would use the influence and access of a controlled substance to grant themselves power. This is how renowned criminal kingpin Al Capone would come to make millions a year, opening himself up to the financial loopholes that would eventually result in his conviction.
The script from Mamet doesn’t get into the historical aspects of the film, rather, it provides just enough information for the audience to understand that Capone = bad and Ness = good. One can even applaud that Ness, as played by Costner, seems only interested in capturing those who break the law, making sure to highlight in his initial remarks to the Chicago cops he’s coming to work with that if they work for him, they can’t drink anymore. It’s suggestive of an awareness of the times and that there’s a difference between personal preference and rule of law. It’s why Costner last line in the film is so funny. After all he’s been through in Chicago, the friends he’s made and lost, what will Ness do if Prohibition ends? He’ll have a drink. With this line, The Untouchables sums up what Costner’s performance tells us from start to finish about Ness, he’s no more super human than anyone else. Where it became personal for the cinematic Ness is when he discovered the “Chicago Way” of doing business, the cost of which likely making his victory over Capone feel pyrrhic through all it cost. Looking back on this film which garnered several award nominations (winning Connery an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor and composer Ennio Morricone a Grammy), one can see why audiences were so affected by it: it’s far more a declaration of Americana, of good triumphing over evil, than an exploration of what created the situation in the first place.
When a film possesses the prestige that The Untouchables does, the bar is pretty high for any anniversary edition, whether a restoration or merely a new format. While the information included with the review copy Paramount Pictures sent doesn’t mention what materials were used and under whose supervision, that the film was shot using traditional equipment already sets up the restoration to look better than many up-converted or upgraded restorations. Admittedly, having not seen the film before (don’t ask; I’m not sure how either), I have nothing to compare it against, but having seen a number of restorations in the last two years thanks to the growing reach of 4K UHD in homes, this is one of the better ones. The grain is visible, but not distracting. Detail is pleasantly noticeable in clothes, the make-up on the actors visibly absent (something which doesn’t always happen when clarity of picture is increased), and the general feel of the film is modern, though period set. All in all, the 4K treatment grants new energy to an already beloved film. Thankfully, what I could experience of the audio matches the video in quality. I can’t speak to the Atmos track as I don’t have that kind of set-up, but the Dolby 5.1 is well balanced, coming through clearly, whether it’s the dialogue from the center speaker or ambient sounds in the back corners.
Be advised that the 35th anniversary edition includes only the legacy bonus features of prior releases, the film itself is restored to 4K UHD video and a Dolby Atmos audio track. For those who prefer physical formats, you can snag either a standard 4K UHD edition or go for a specially-designed steelbook. Both physical editions include a digital copy to be redeemed for streaming access which, itself, includes the same bonus materials.
Thanks to The Untouchables, audiences the world over know that if you want to get someone to stop, the Chicago Way can be an effective method to find out just how far someone is willing to go, good or bad. “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,” says Connery’s Malone to Costner’s Ness. It’s not just a declaration of how Capone works, but a challenge for what Ness will have to be willing to do in order to put Capone behind bars. It’s not the most effective deterrent for violence nor is it “an eye for an eye.” This is a statement that clues the audience and Ness into just how morally compromising they need to get comfortable being in order to stop the lawless. Though the film doesn’t explore this as much as might satisfy those interested in the moral quandary at the heart of the film, there’s no denying its place in cinema history. Now, with a 4K UHD restoration, it can look it’s best as it’s passed down to a brand-new audience.
The Untouchables Legacy Special Features:
- The Script, The Cast
- Production Stories
- Re-Inventing the Genre
- The Classic
- Original Featurette: “The Men”
- Theatrical Trailer
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray and digital May 31st, 2022.
For more information, head to the official Paramount Pictures The Untouchables webpage.