The Tax Man Shooteth

A pure example of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’s famed line, “Print the legend,” The Untouchables takes little notice of prohibition’s political idiocy. As Elliot Ness, Kevin Costner pleads with Chicago’s police to stop drinking. He knows the law is asinine, but he’s bound by duty, no matter the lives cost.

The Untouchables’ goal is glorification – glorification of heroism, shoot-outs, violence, and yes, legend. At its most absurd, Ness engages in a shootout as a baby’s carriage begins cascading down steps, all in slow motion, the mother desperately reaching for her child as gunfire pings off walls. There’s no nuance. The message is a pointed one, to elevate Ness’ standing in history as wholly infallible, while celebrating vengeful, old time Dirty Harry-esque justice.

The Untouchables lays it on absurdly thick

Al Capone (Robert De Niro) serves as the historical villain, bathing in brief violence as he murders a man with a baseball bat. Then Ness and his crew gun down countless men with the intent being shouts of elation from the audience. Never though does The Untouchables openly discuss the cause, just exalting law enforcement relentlessly chew through bullets in a back-and-forth assault for two hours of screentime.

American lore is swarming with outlaws and gangsters, Capone among them. Rebels, killers. Then the men who stopped them. The Untouchable’s historical backdrop is different though, linked to the modern era and the drug war that likewise cost lives in the pursuit of bogus law. Watching Ness tear down the Capone organization isn’t satisfying, but a relic from the ‘30s as much as it is the ‘80s. It’s an absurd work, lacking nuance during and after explosively bloody kills.

There’s never a question if Ness is a hero to The Untouchables. He is. The law is law, not the broader rights of people. It’s purely American in its approach, uncritical, and when asked what he’ll do if prohibition is lifted, Ness replies, “Get a drink.” Minutes before, he bemoaned the violence looking over photos, but shows no remorse or anger toward the legislation that killed his friends. It’s quite asinine, but that’s how legends form – straight good and evil, clashing against one another in a simple fantasy. The Untouchables lays it on absurdly thick.

Video

Bold contrast gives The Untouchables life on UHD. This is courtesy of a Dolby Vision pass that adds depth to the late ’80s film stock, substantial via the black levels. Lights bloom, not overtly bright, yet perky. There’s a glow and a steaminess to the cinematography this presentation helps along.

A rougher grain structure presents a challenge to Paramount’s encode. It’s not 100% perfect. As expected, the more complex the imagery, the less likely compression is to keep control. However, the loss is insignificant, the blocking minor, and the image integrity held up. At all times, the benefits of this 4K scan appear, always sharp and defined with detail outstanding. Facial texture jumps forward even in dark alleyways. Vintage Chicago never looked this great.

Oddly, around 30-40 minutes, the material dims, as if pulled from a different print instead of something near to the negative. Softness makes The Untouchables suddenly look worn, flat, and lacking. After that, it’s fine, and back to stellar catalog transfer standards.

Superlative color reproduction pushes primaries to an appealing, rich limit. Flesh tones favor the warmer side within reason, while other hues appear vibrant. Chicago’s lights glisten fully.

Audio

In Atmos only, the mix doesn’t avoid age. Dialog sounds thin, a bit flat and dry. Action exhibits no range of note, gunshots flat. Any directionality happens briefly with the score more likely to take up residence in the rears. Same goes for the bass, supporting the music and little else.

A few Atmos effects happen, like a grenade rolling on a tin roof and some gunshots hitting ceilings. It’s minor.

Extras

Both the UHD and Blu-ray contain the same extras. These open with an 18-minute making-of, an older one, but no less informative. A 17-minute piece titled Production Stories invites cast and crew to discuss their parts on the film. The genre approach is explored from De Palma and other’s perspectives over 14-minutes. Ennicio Morricone’s score comes into focus next over five minutes. An EPK and trailer round this disc out.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Untouchables
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  • Audio
  • Extras
3

Movie

The Untouchables is a pure Hollywood example of “print the legend,” willing to engage in old time, violent justice to make heroes from bogus laws.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 45 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: