We’re so close to the Sept. 13 release date of the five-star doc De Palma on Blu-ray that there’s already a distinctive smell of candid cinema chatter in the air. (Just look to Brandon Peters’ very cool recent Raising Cain Blu-ray review for firm evidence!) And speaking of honest talk about films, let’s hop onto yet another dissection of past picture perfection paying tribute to all things Brian De Palma – welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick! Today’s selection is a damn fine film about loyalty, redemption and overcoming the past that is by far one of De Palma’s best. A tale of a man with a notorious criminal past looking to go straight – but will the world let him? Their way, the law’s way, no matter what he’s doing it…Carlito’s Way.
Carlito Brigante is a Puerto Rican career criminal with a life-long reputation for being a badass. But after serving five years of a thirty year stretch he finds himself about to be released from prison. Seems his lawyer Dave Kleinfeld has gotten Carlito out on a technicality and with his new freedom the once feared man has vowed to call it quits and retire outside of New York to a lawful life. But it’s not so easy for the now rehabilitated Carlito to stay the course. With thugs, guns and ambitious up and comers at every turn, his desire to go straight hangs by a thread. The only two constants keeping him above board – a nightclub he runs and Gail the woman he loves. But are they enough to keep the formerly crooked Carlito on the straight and narrow?
There is a lot of story, plot and characters not detailed in the description above – namely because not unlike The Godfather, Carlito’s Way is a mammoth sized crime saga that dares to be experienced. While we may only follow Al Pacino’s charismatic Carlito for a short film timeframe, it’s filled to the brim with a vast amount of sensational story and set pieces on a grandiose scale. Plus it’s no surprise that Director Brian De Palma thinks this is meaty flick is one of his best – it’s got his style stamp at every captivating turn. There’s suspense (the opening bit involving Carlito at a shady bar is heart pounding!), great use of narrative devices (Pacino charismatic voice over connects the audience to his plight – and it works wonderfully!), signature visuals (the train station sequence is classic De Palma!), sizzling sexuality (the scene where the ample Penelope Ann Miller taunts a lust hungry Pacino from behind the crack of a locked door is maddeningly hot!), memorable music (the song selections are dead on!) and even quirky side characters (Sean Penn’s transformation into Pacino’s questionable lawyer is Oscar worthy!) that could all only come from the genius that is De Palma. (Plus look for a little early Viggo Mortensen to boot!)
And then there’s Pacino himself. Playing a hard man who’s had a change of heart, Pacino’s role here may not be as flashy as say Scarface’s Tony Montana nor as bravado driven as Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman, but it’s by no means any less effective. As the smooth soothing voice of the film, Pacino’s Carlito’s Brigante may be a criminal but he’s also a lot like of us – a trapped man who dreams of a way out. His earnest desire to escape the life he’s been leading and Pacino’s underlying vulnerability makes Carlito an easy character to root for and it’s that place of sincerity where the films’ tension is at its highest – and De Palma’s cinematic expertise burns brightest.
I know the massive amount of movie (almost two and a half hours!) was too much for some when the film was released (hence the low box office), but I’m a firm believer that story dictates size and not the other way around. Hitting all the right marks, combining the best elements of what makes a movie great and engulfing the audience in a complete world that’s distinctively De Palma, Carlito, both the man and the film, are equally passionate pieces of work – and they have a lot to say.