• Ten years after Scarface, Carlito’s Way reteams Brian De Palma and Al Pacino for a sort of cocaine sequel. Pacino’s Carlito is certainly a much better man than Tony Montana- but he is in the drug trade- “The J.P. Morgan of the smack business.”
  • The film opens with the end of the story- black and white slow-motion photography with the opening titles and voice over of Pacino (playing a Puerto Rican character here instead of Cuban) hovering on top.

    The sign “Escape to Paradise” is in color with everything else in black and white emphasizing the broken American dream (similar to Montana’s “The World is Yours” sign).

  • Sean Penn plays a crucial role in the film as Kleinfeld. He is Carlito’s lawyer and friend. Nobody told Penn that his character is not the lead with his permed hair, glasses, inferiority complex and overcompensating hysteria. There is a reading of the film in which it is Carlito’s loyalty to Kleinfeld that causes his doom- like a sort of non-sexual (even if there are lines like “if you were a broad, I’d marry you” during Carlito’s first night out of jail and both he and Kleinfeld ignore their dates) love story femme fatale.
  • The pool hall ambush set piece at the 25-minute mark is marvelous cinema. John Ortiz has early role in his career (he does not last long here).

As Carlito sizes up a shot at the pool table De Palma uses a split diopter to great effect- and then has a stunner of a shot bouncing off of sunglasses.

another split later in the film used to emphasize Carlito’s wandering eye as he spots a woman that looks like Gail

  • This is a brilliant riff on The Godfather and Scarface– Carlito has an overarching goal of going straight and owning a car rental business in Florida as his escape.
  • Penelope Ann Miller plays Gail and looks like Naomi Watts before Naomi Watts.
  • It is hard to see a great first-person point of view tracking shot of Luis Guzman in a night club and not think of Boogie Nights (1997). De Palma is a genius at moving the camera. The camera floats up and down the stairs after capturing the glow of the neon lights outside. De Palma gets another chance to flex at the 60-minute mark when Carlito enters the club where Gail dances. Ceryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real” song is the audio choice as De Palma captures the scene at innovative oblique angles.

entering a club with a masterful tracking shot- Carlito’s Way is 1993 caught between Goodfellas (1990) and Boogie Nights (1997)

  • David Koepp’s screenplay adaptation is contemplative – especially Carlito’s fatalistic voice over. Koepp would also adapt Jurassic Park in 1993.

Hitchcock is usually the master De Palma echoes- but here it is Welles…

…low angle with ceiling design and fixtures substituting as background

  • Carlito’s great character flaw (on top of being overly loyal to Kleinfeld)-his “dumb move” as he says- is that he is aggressively antagonistic towards Bennie Blanco (played by John Leguizamo). This flaw makes Carlito an even richer, more tragic figure as his hatred of Blanco is really self-hate- “this is you twenty years ago”. The Bennie Blanco subplot also works in the story as one assumes it is going to be Penn’s Kleinfeld that is going to be Carlito’s doom.
  • Unfortunately, the film contains a flat-out horrible scene- the “You Are So Beautiful” Joe Cocker song 360-degree shot after Carlito kicks in the door to Gail’s apartment. Such a disaster. Like Body Double, De Palma is trying to recreate the 360-degree shot between lovers in Vertigo, and this is just poor instincts yet again (just like Body Double)- a blemish.
  • Luckily, the film’s famous prolonged cat and mouse Steadicam sequences help move past the Cocker scene. Carlito is juggling so many things at once: trying to evade the Italians, track down his money, make the 1130 train—and De Palma’s astounding camerawork is there to stalk his every step. This is not just great technique- but it aids the narrative. It simply does not have the same effect if he cuts these sequences up.
  • A train station chase (Blow Out) with shooting on the steps (The Untouchables– though the one in Carlito is an escalator) at the 125-minute mark that moves into the subway.

This is long take technical mastery from one of the best to ever move the camera. The camera choreography took months to shoot and perfect.

  • The music is from Patrick Doyle and it is a slight miss. Another one from Pino Donaggio (Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Body Heat) Ennio Morricone (The Untouchables) or Giorgio Moroder (Scarface) make this a somewhat better film.
  • De Palma’s instincts betray him yet again at the very end as he goes to “You Are So Beautiful” for the closing credits just when you were starting to forget about the song and dreadful scene from earlier in the film when the song was used.
  • Highly Recommend / Must-See border- perhaps even leaning Must-See