Al Pacino and Brian De Palma collaboration brought one of the most iconic gangster to film with “Scarface”. A film that would define both of their careers making “Carlito’s Way” a unique enigma. While both are about man wanting to be better then he is both are the polar opposite in terms of tone, atmosphere, and pacing. In the end “Carlito’s Way” doesn’t surpass “Scarface”, but neither is it inferior in any noticeable way.
Carlito’s Way is about a Puerto Rican former convict, just released from prison, pledging to stay away from drugs and violence despite the pressure around him and lead on to a better life outside of N.Y.C.. Moving along at a slow pace “Carlito’s Way” tells an engrossing story. Allowing enough time to develop every major player that come into play in the story. Getting across every character history with each other, how each one lives, and interweaving each conflict into a single narrative that never becomes lost among many of its characters. Filled with a wide cast they never undermined our main character, but instead build upon Carlito’s character who doesn’t follow a traditional narrative. What we don’t see is the rise of Carlito to power, but instead we do see is the traditional fall. What makes this fall different is fully understanding Carlito’s world how he sees it and how he goes against the image given to him. Yes we know the outcome of Carlito’s life in the beginning of the film which in no way detracts from it story. It’s a quite a feat to make a thrilling climax when the outcome has already been shown. It seems the plot would have gotten everything right if it weren’t for stock characters. Sure the stock characters are well developed from the drug addicted best friend, crooked cops, a promising new young criminal, and many more unfortunately play out like a cliche. At its heart “Carlito’s Way” story fits B movie territory where’s it biggest strength lies using it towards its strength and not so much as a concealing weakness. It might be retreading familiar ground with stock characters helping you connect the dot faster than the plotline, but getting to the already known destination is an engaging character piece.
Director Brian De Palma acknowledges that “Carlito’s Way” is one giant slice of cheese with style. He pushes every motion and emotion to operatic proportions, ringing every ounce of drama. With its impeccable compositions, precise camera work, glacial tracking shots, baroque tone, sublime action sequences, and flamboyant acting, this is a film in love with its own form. Al Pacino’s performance as Carlito is the heart of the movie. Compelling, tough, and intelligent from years of dope dealing and soaking up the gang-land atmosphere around him. Framed by a jet black beard, Pacino spends the film always dressed in black, navigating his death dream like a fallen angel. Pacino spends the film alternating between a stance of fast-talking macho posturing and one of melancholic regret. He wears the face of a corpse, of defeat and acceptance, his flashes of confidence a hip old mask which doesn’t know if its going or staying. Then there’s Sean Penn as Kleinfeld, a scheming, vain little man who starts off seemingly as legitimate as a lawyer of criminals, but as we soon learn, he has slipped into a world that he has no place to belong in. Kleinfeld, with his balding, curly hair and nervy, cranked voice. However, when the viewer looks into his eyes, both terrified and ravenous, one can understand the pathway to excess that most conventional crime movies take for granted.
Carlito’s Way is a slow and engrossing character driven crime drama that will keep you watching even though you know the fate of the main character in the beginning of the film. Well directed and well acted Carlito’s Way will absorb you into its world and characters all the way through the end.