J.D. Lafrance
Carlito’s Way: Ultimate Edition DVD Review

Carlito’s Way: Ultimate Edition

January 3, 2006

Director: Brian De Palma,
Starring: Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, Luis Guzmán, John Leguizamo, Viggo Mortensen, James Rebhorn, Richard Foronjy, Joseph Siravo, Adrian Pasdar, ,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

There was a lot of anticipation when Carlito’s Way was released in 1993. Director Brian De Palma had just come off a lukewarm reception for yet another Hitchcock homage, Raising Cain (1992) and was in need of a hit to appease the studios. And so, a re-teaming with Al Pacino in an effort to recreate the magic of Scarface (1983) made commercial sense. Carlito’s Way was much more sombre in tone than the cinematic shotgun blast that is Scarface. It is a tragedy about how a criminal tries to go straight but is ultimately doomed from the get-go. This is the third version of the DVD, timed to coincide with the direct-to-video release of the prequel, but is it worth purchasing if you already own one of the previous incarnations?

Carlito’s Way features one of the oldest chestnuts in the world, Narrating his story during the last moments of his life, Carlito Brigante (Pacino) is a veteran criminal recently released from prison and intent on leading a normal, law-abiding life. Of course, it isn’t going to be that easy and when he returns to his old neighbourhood, his reputation precedes him. Local gangster Benny Blanco from the Bronx (Leguizamo) is a cocky, up and comer who sets his sights on Carlito after he shames him in public. Carlito, however, barely notices him as he’s torn between reuniting with an old flame, Gail (Miller), a struggling Broadway dancer, and keeping his lawyer friend, David Kleinfeld (Penn) out of trouble.

As a personal favour to David, Carlito runs a nightclub so that he can raise enough money to start his own business renting cars in a tropical paradise with Gail. However, Carlito’s loyalty to David will be his undoing because his friend has become so corrupt during the time that Carlito was in prison.

As always, De Palma injects the film with his trademark bravura action sequences, including one early on when Carlito accompanies his cousin on a routine drug deal that turns into a violent blood bath. One look at the set-up and, like Carlito, we know that something is not right. De Palma prolongs the violent confrontation for as long as possible, gradually building the tension as we feel Carlito’s apprehension. The director orchestrates the entire scene like a pro, knowing just how long to build things up before the inevitable eruption of violence.

Carlito is a role tailor-made for Al Pacino, allowing him to essay another larger-than-life character. Carlito is a smart guy who cannot escape what he is no matter how hard he tries and Pacino conveys the melancholy that lurks behind the bravado of his character. The real scene stealer, however, is Sean Penn’s sleazy, coked-up lawyer. The actor reportedly did the film to help finance his directorial debut, The Crossing Guard (1995). For a paycheck role, Penn does a great job as he disappears into the character, complete with a frizzy afro and cheap suits. It’s almost as if Pacino’s presence inspired Penn to step up his game. And this makes Penn’s memorable turn so much fun to watch.

The rest of the cast is filled out by solid character actors like John Leguizamo, who plays Benny as a pushy little runt with a motor-mouth, and the always reliable Luis Guzman as Carlito’s right-hand man. The only miscasting is Penelope Ann Miller as Pacino’s love interest. She looks out of place and just doesn’t have the chops to hold her own against Pacino.

Despite the cliched premise, Carlito’s Way works so well because of the calibre of actors, David Koepp’s screenplay with memorable dialogue (“You think you’re big time?! You’re gonna fucking die big time!”), and De Palma’s stylish direction. This movie is proof that given the right material De Palma can still make a hell of an entertaining movie. Sadly, the right project has eluded him ever since Carlito’s Way. Hopefully, his upcoming adaptation of James Ellroy’s gritty crime novel, The Black Dahlia, will put him back on track and show the world, once again, the great filmmaker that he can be.

Special Features:

“Brian De Palma on Carlito’s Way” features the director criticizing the current crop of movies that merely copy or quote from other movies or TV shows (Tarantino anyone?) and don’t draw from real life. De Palma puts a lot of thought into the visuals of his movies in an attempt to surprise the audience. He goes on to slam film critics who don’t like visual filmmakers and then, in an act of typical hubris, compares himself to Alfred Hitchcock.

There are nine deleted scenes totaling eight minutes. There are a lot of extensions of existing scenes that feature some nice moments between characters (like one between Pacino and Penn).

Included from the previously released “Collector’s Edition” is “The Making of Carlito’s Way,” a 34 minute retrospective featurette. The movie was based on two books written by Judge Edwin Torres that was well-received by critics and was quickly optioned for a movie. At first, studios were not keen on the material but once Pacino expressed interest in the character of Carlito, he was able to push the film to get made. De Palma did not want to repeat Scarface but loved Koepp’s screenplay. Sadly, Pacino and Penn are not present for this featurette that is nonetheless informative and well-made.

Also included from the “Collector’s Edition” is a “Photo and Poster Gallery” that features some really cool poster designs, stills from the movie and some of De Palma.

“Original Promotional Featurette” was done back in the day and is more like a five minute trailer than anything of real substance.

Finally, there is an original theatrical trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 92%



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