The Untouchables (1987) – Review 4K Ultra HD
Directed by Brian DePalma.
With Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, Robert De Niro, Sean Connery and Patricia Clarkson.
Brian De Palma’s classic The Incorruptibles is coming to 4K about as well as it did in theaters 35 years ago. No new supplements were ordered for this release, but Paramount carried over previous bonus features and included a code for a digital copy.
by Brian DePalma The Incorruptibles was overdue for a home video upgrade, given the lackluster picture quality of the original Blu-ray, and Paramount knocked it out of the park for the film’s 35th anniversary with this 4K Ultra HD edition, which arrives in a beautiful SteelBook. The studio didn’t create any new bonus features, opting instead to carry over legacy extras, and there’s no Blu-ray included here, but you do get a code for a digital copy.
Released in 1987, The Incorruptibles is loosely based on Federal Agent Eliot Ness’ efforts to bring down notorious mobster Al Capone, who was making his fortune in the 1930s through his illegal booze trade. I say “based” because David Mamet’s screenplay takes a lot of liberties with historical fact, choosing instead to craft its own story that matches the narrative theme of a straight-backed lawman pushed to the limits of his moral code.
Kevin Costner plays Ness, a casting choice that may seem obvious now but was a bit risky at the time, since the actor had yet to break into stardom. Ness leads a group dubbed “The Untouchables” by the press because they refuse to participate in the bribes and corruption that were rampant in Chicago at the time. They include: beaten up grizzled cop Jim Malone (Sean Connery), who helps Ness with a key raid on Capone’s liquor store; George Stone (Andy Garcia), one of the best shooters in the police academy; and Oscar Wallace (George Martin Smith), an accountant trying to figure out how to nail Capone for tax evasion, which he eventually did.
The foursome pursue Capone (Robert De Niro) and his men, incurring great personal risk and loss as Ness considers criminal charges while Wallace works the income tax angle. However, Wallace is forced into his duties as an officer, forcing him out of his comfort zone as he accompanies others on raids. It’s a recurring theme for Ness in the film: he’s so staunchly devoted to his cause that he can rally others to join him even at great personal risk.
Thematically, The Incorruptibles is truly a ‘good guys versus bad guys’ story, with a rousing scoreline every time Ness and her team score a big win. As a result, he and his nemesis veer into the world of caricature, particularly De Niro’s performance as Capone, but it’s all in service of a narrative meant to have a bit of a mythical quality to it. It might not be Mamet’s smartest script, but it gets the job done.
Video-wise, Paramount did a terrific job upgrading this movie to 4K. I’ve never seen the Blu-ray version before, but read that it was plagued with a lot of digital processing that robbed the film of its cinematic feel. The 4K presentation here is well within the realm of theatrical quality. It’s probably as close to the original theatrical experience as you’re going to get these days. (I know I say this often, but I think 4K represents peak home video for most people. Only moviegoers with very large screens and high-end systems will benefit from anything beyond this format.)
Unfortunately, nothing new has been ordered in terms of bonuses. Everything was transferred from the Blu-ray, which in turn had been transferred from the DVD, so the material here appears windowed on your screen. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing. Here’s what you’ll find:
• The script, the cast (18.5 mins): De Palma and producer Art Linson discuss the genesis of the project, which began as a revival of the old Untouchables TV show before pivoting to the version written by Mamet. They also enter the cast, with an interesting tidbit about how they almost went with Bob Hoskins as Capone. Cast members appear in archival interviews on set.
• Production stories (17 mins): We move on to the actual filming process, with another mix of old and new interviews (well, new as of the DVD release). I loved hearing how they managed to make late 1980s Chicago look like the early 1930s version of the city.
• Reinventing the genre (14.5 minutes): A conversation about how the film transforms conventional ‘cops and robbers’ movies, with a particular focus on De Palma taking inspiration from John Ford’s Westerns.
• The classic (5.75 minutes): Back to the impact of the film on the careers of the actors, in particular Kevin Costner and Patricia Clarkson.
• Original Feature: Men (5.5 mins): This is one of those old EPK (electronic press kit) videos that were created way back when to sell movies to theater owners.
The theatrical trailer rounds out the set.
Scintillating Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Film: ★ ★ ★ ★