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The Untouchables"The Untouchables" on HD DVD

High Caliber Action

Now on HD DVD, Brian De Palma's version of the old TV series is a violent but engrossing story of gangland Chicago and the comeuppance of Al Capone.

Elliott Ness (Kevin Costner) is an idealistic Treasury Department agent whose reason for being is to bring Al Capone to justice. Capone, brilliantly played by Robert De Niro, is a larger than life figure who's feared by all yet has also become somewhat of a media darling. He's ruthless yet charming and he runs Chicago with an iron fist.

Ness is really out of his league, but he meets crusty old Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery in his Oscar-winning performance), an almost-stereotypical Irish cop whose been around the block so many times he has enough life and job experience to make up for his flat feet. Malone becomes Ness' teammate and mentor, advising him on how to beat the mob at its own game.

His advice amounts to "shoot first and shoot best" and, while it was undoubtedly wise advice, it also leads to the decimation of Ness team of "Untouchables" (played, besides Costner and Connery, by Charles Martin Smith and Andy Garcia). Ness takes the advice to heart, reluctantly, when he's forced to gun down a perpetrator in a border-crossing booze bust that's almost fouled up by overzealous Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers from across the river.

The success of Ness' raid leads to brutal retaliation by Capone's men, and an escalation of the bloodletting that sees only two of the Untouchables still alive at movie's end. Along the way there's plenty of corruption and action to satisfy almost any cop film fan.

The violence is graphic, but not unnecessary, and David Mamet's screenplay itself is powerful, gripping, shocking, and at times moving. It's also a tad predictable in a couple of places, for instance the baby carriage sequence, but on the whole the few rather contrived moments don't take from the overall quality of the film.

The DVD is presented in widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 TV's. The high definition transfer brings higher quality, not surprisingly, with excellent detail that's more than welcome from such a lush production.  Colors are deep and rich and, for the most part, very well saturated, and the detail is fantastic, though you should realize that this is still an "older" film and native 1080p productions (of which we can't think of many at this point in video history) should have the potential to be even better. And any softness you might notice could stem from the original source: we thought the original DVD was a tad soft as well.

There is some grain, but not a lot, and some edge enhancement haloing, but overall it's very good.

The Dolby Digital EX and dts soundtracks don't offer a lot of surround, but it doesn't seem to matter to your enjoyment. And when they do kick in, you'll know it!

As for extras, the HD disc has a lot more to love than the limited extras on the original DVD. This time, you get featurettes such as "The Script, The Cast," "Production Stories," "Reinventing the Genre," and "The Classic." You also get an original featurette "The Men" and the trailer redone in HD.

The Untouchables, from Paramount Home Video
119 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Starring Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia.
Produced by Art Linson
Written by David Mamet, Directed by Brian de Palma

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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