Revisiting The Untouchables for the first time in years had me thinking about director Brian De Palma's long, varied and wildly inconsistent career. There are the definite highs (Carrie), the lows (The Bonfire of the Vanities), the underrated (The Fury), the overrated (Scarface), the blockbusters (Mission: Impossible) and the bombs (pretty much everything of the past 20 years).
But even taking the films approaching artistry (Blow Out, Carlito’s Way) into account, I’ve concluded that 1987’s The Untouchables is probably De Palma’s best. Watching it with fresh eyes - aided by a damn fine 4K transfer - is a reminder that he was the perfect director to resurrect such an iconic brand name. In the process, with considerable help on both sides of the camera, he created the quintessential De Palma film. Consider this…
- While retaining the epic grandeur of classic gangster films, The Untouchables eschews the genre’s inherent complexities, boiling the story down to its essential elements: Good guys vs. bad guys. Its narrative simplicity is as accessible and easy to digest as Star Wars. And unlike Coppola, De Palma’s visual style was perfectly suited for the ‘80s.
- At the same time, there's a timeless quality to the film that transcends the decade. Sure, there’s style to burn and a slew of scenes reflecting De Palma’s penchant for panache, but unlike Scarface, this one doesn’t reek of the era from which it sprang. Much of that is due to the period setting, but also Ennio Morricone’s sweeping score, the best music he ever composed for an American film.
|"Can we get ice cream after this?"
- The Untouchables features a knock-out cast, all of whom manage to make their (deliberately?) broad characters engaging. Even Kevin Costner (as Elliot Ness) holds his own against the likes of Sean Connery and Robert De Niro.
- Speaking of broad characters, screenwriter David Mamet might be The Untouchables’ unsung MVP, establishing the characters through memorable, succinctly written dialogue.
- Neither De Palma nor Mamet made any claims of historical accuracy. Ness, Al Capone & Frank Nitti may have been real figures during Prohibition, but perpetuating the legend is far more exhilarating than presenting anything resembling reality.
- Nearly every Brian De Palma film - even a few of the bad ones - features at least a scene or two that drops our collective jaws. But overall, The Untouchables is a consistent triumph of production design, editing, cinematography, balletic violence and kinetic action.
- Even De Palma’s tendency to rip-off pay homage to past masters works well within the context of the story...most notably, the climactic train station sequence inspired by 1925’s Battleship Potemkin. The Untouchables is also perfectly paced, and with a 119 minute running time, never outstays its welcome. Think about it…how many post-Godfather gangster films can you name that run less than two hours?
In this writer’s opinion, The Untouchables showcases Brian De Palma at the peak of his powers (though he didn’t do it alone). Does it rank among the greatest gangster films ever made? That’s debatable, but it’s certainly one of the best to emerge from the ‘80s. Almost awesome in its simplicity, the film is a classic marriage of epic storytelling and the director’s visual flair (minus his trademark voyeurism, of course). This 4K UHD disc offers excellent picture & sound, though the bonus features, while fairly extensive, are all carried over from previous DVD/Blu-ray releases.
FEATURETTES - “The Script, The Cast”; “Production Stories”; “Re-Inventing the Genre”; “The Classic”; “The Men.”