DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Carlito’s Way, Blu-ray (1993/2010)

A Minor Work From One Of The Masters.

Published on May 16, 2010

Carlito’s Way, Blu-ray (1993/2010)

Carlito’s Way, Blu-ray (1993/2010)

Starring: Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, John Leguizamo
Director: Brian De Palma
Studio: Universal Studios
Music: Patrick Doyle
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 1080p HD
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Deleted Scenes, The Making of Carlito’s Way, Brian De Palma on Carlito’s Way, D-Box Motion Enabled
Length: 2 hrs, 24 mins
Rating: ****

In some ways director Brian De Palma’s filmography is superior to that of other notable American directors from the 1970s that may receive more accolades. The variety in his body of work is astonishing, from the early experimental films like Greetings and the sorely underrated Hi, Mom!, to his famous thrillers like Carrie and Sisters, to one of this critic’s favorite films, the cult classic rock musical Phantom of the Paradise. De Palma also flourished during the 1980s while many of his peers struggled to adapt, achieving commercial success with films like Dressed To Kill and The Untouchables, and artistic triumph with two of his best films Body Double and Blow Out. He also made Scarface, perhaps his most famous film, in 1983 with Al Pacino. A remake of Howard Hawks’ seminal 1932 gangster movie, Scarface became a major cultural reference point for gangster rap, video games, and aspiring filmmakers. In 1993 De Palma and Pacino re-united for another gangster epic, Carlito’s Way, now released on Blu-ray by Universal.

Carlito’s Way, based on the novel After Hours by Edwin Torres, tells the story of Carlito Brigante, a former drug dealer freed from prison on a technicality thanks to the tireless work of his long-time friend and attorney David Kleinfeld, played by Sean Penn. Having matured in prison, Carlito refuses to go back to dealing and tries to save enough money with his job running a popular night club to leave the country. He reunites with his ex-girlfriend and tries to start his new life, but his code of honor and the treachery of those around him inevitably pull him back into underworld intrigue.

The Blu-ray experience greatly enhances many portions of the film. One scene in particular, where Carlito faces down a young dealer named Benny Blanco (played by John Leguizamo) who has been harassing people in his club is astonishing. The only lighting in the scene is two harsh neon lights washing out the two men’s faces as they argue, and the intensity of the color in hi-definition is physically affecting. The melodrama’s score written by Patrick Doyle is also heightened, especially if the viewer’s home theatre system is equipped for surround sound.

The special features on the disc are somewhat unimpressive. “The Making of Carlito’s Way” featurette is interesting, if relatively standard. “Brian De Palma on Carlito’s Way” is a more significant disappointment. De Palma often gives very insightful and interesting interviews, but in this oddly edited segment he is asked banal and shallow questions, and responds with rote answers, occasionally seeming bored.

As a film, Carlito’s Way holds up very well. The script by David Koepp & Edwin Torres, has serious flaws in pacing and plausibility, and fills Carlito’s scenes with his girlfriend with tired clichés, but the exceptional performances and directing rise above these weaknesses. Pacino and Leguizamo are both excellent, but the standout is Sean Penn, playing against type as a slimy and spineless lawyer in far over his head in the world of drugs and crime.

De Palma is so talented that even though Carlito’s Way is not one of the best movies he’s ever directed, it is still masterfully done. The scene where Kleinfled is attacked while waiting for the elevator is a classic example of the De Palma style, and worth watching the film for if nothing else.

Often seen as a companion piece to Scarface, Carlito’s Way was a minor cultural event in its own right. The audio of Carlito taunting his enemies during a gun battle was sampled in the intro of Jay-Z’s classic 1998 rap album Vol 2: Hard Knock Life. This excellent Blu-ray transfer is a worthy addition to any De Palma fan’s collection, and let’s hope the rest of De Palma’s varied and brilliant filmography receives similar treatment upon its re-issue.

- Ethan Krow




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