Ten years after Brian De Palma and Al Pacino made Scarface, they came back with Carlito‘s Way, another gangster epic and classic action-thriller. Carlito Brigante is much quieter and wiser than the raging Tony Montanna in Scarface, but he still chases a dream with a speeding bullet right behind him.
Carlito’s dream, however, isn’t a pot of cocaine or power and wealth, like it may have been in the past. Things have changed; he wants to go straight, clean up his act and escape the streets so he can retire in paradise with his girlfriend Gail (Penelope Ann Miller). When we first meet Carlito, he’s fresh out of jail thanks to his crooked lawyer David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn), who busted the government’s case against him. As a nightclub owner, Carlito wants to focus on saving money to invest in a legitimate business, but everyone wonders when he’ll crack and return to criminal activities.
On one side Carlito is a tough gangster and on the other, he’s a fragile, rueful figure. The question is: can he run from his past? Pacino is brilliant as a haggard ex-con desperately trying to stay clean. The pressure builds up on Carlito to get back into crime, especially when Kleinfield’s connections to the mob world start interfering with Carlito’s life. There are key moments between Kleinfield and Carlito and they play upon the emotions of the viewer. Carlito has a blind devotion to the man who got him out of jail, and so he agrees to do one last job.
De Palma sets the stage and Pacino really pushes home his character. Even in a restrained role like this, you still believe he would have respect in this particular world. But there’s total commitment, style and panache from every actor involved. The film is well directed and well thought out, with great action scenes, shootouts, and stunning suspense. The last twenty minutes is vintage Brian De Palma as every scene is filled with shocks and near-misses, leading toward the grand finale.
Carlito’s Way is a great blend of action, crime and drama. Sure, I’ve seen better films, but it’s a strong entry in the mob movie canon (and perhaps a little underrated). This isn’t the story of a gangster’s rise to power. It’s a story of redemption, revenge and love. It’s about a gangster trying to get away from the bad and it’s utterly compelling.
Director: Brian De Palma
Writer: David Koepp
Stars: Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, John Leguizamo, Luis Guzman
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 144 minutes.