- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- David Koepp’s screenplay adaptation is contemplative – especially Carlito’s fatalistic voice over. Koepp would also adapt Jurassic Park in 1993.
- 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.
- 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
I love the Cocker’s song but I can understand that it may be cheesy for you BUT I really like the music of Patrick Doyle.
A MS movie for me. A lots of good scenes : the pool scene, the rain scene, the subway sequence.
@KidCharlemagne- It absolutely has a lot of good scenes.
Between this and Scarface which is a better performance by Pacino?
@M*A*S*H – I think Scarface is the stronger film, I consider it a MP and Carlitos Way to be HR. I have a few posts on the Scarface page for this site where I go into details. Tony Montana is definitely more iconic, Scarface had a huge pop culture impact and I loved the Pacino performance and the film in general. While I don’t think as highly of Carlitos Way as I do of Scarface (although I definitely do enjoy it) I do think that Carlito is the more emotionally complex role. Tony Montana is a great character in many ways but he’s more one note than Carlito who is conflicted about his prior crimes, relationship with Gail (Penelope Ann Miller), and what he wants out of his life going forward. Tony Montana knows exactly what he wants out of life but there is some depth as well, in particular the complex relationship he has with his sister.
If forced to pick I will go with Carlitos Way
I do think it was smart on De Palma’s part to create a more complex character with Carlito. Tony Montana is so over the top that trying to create an even more over the top character would have been completley and utterly futile. Pacino’s Puerto Rican accent is far less ridiculous than his Cuban accent. It’s funny in that first scene where Carlito is being released from prison after serving only 5 years of a 30 year sentence due to his lawyer (a terrific Sean Penn) getting him off on a technicality, Carlito comes off as an arrogant loud mouth but then as the film progresses you start to realize his braggadocious attitude is a cover for the anxiety he feels being back in society. Carlito has a world weary demeanor being a guy who made it to the top of the drug business while Tony Montana starts off as a nobody who works his way up through sheer force of personality and high level risk taking that pays off as he eventually reaches the top of the drug business.
I think these films complement each other nicely.
“Nobody told Penn that his character is not the lead with his permed hair, glasses, inferiority complex and overcompensating hysteria”
@James Trapp- Glad you like it
@ Drake. Does Penn give the best performance in the film?
@AP- Both really good but give me Penn if forced to pick
@AP – I love both performances, Sean Penn and Al Pacino both have such commanding presence and both are known for their ability to go way over the top. Given the opening scene in the courtroom you would expect Pacino to deliver another over the top performance like in Scarface but instead he actually ends up playing a character much more complex than he would intially appear and it is actually Penn who gives the over the top performance and I would 2nd with Drake with Penn giving the better performance although for me it’s really close.
making their scenes together great. T
Watched this for the first time tonight and it’s Pacino for me. “Maybe I don’t give a shit… maybe I don’t remember the last time I blew my nose either.” His delivery there, and really that entire sequence is so so good
The love scenes betrayed the tone and got too much into melodrama territory for me. As you mention above, the apartment is real bad. Pretty much everything else is great though, I was at a HR, but then the last 20 minutes (or however long the club/subway sequences were) kicked in (holy shit) and I would tentatively say I’m at the HR/MS border as well. It really elevated the movie for me. I was so immersed into the suspense of it that I feel like I didn’t fully understand what was making it so good to begin with, I plan on going back and attacking those scenes from an analytical standpoint (focusing on blocking, camera movement, etc) soon
@Matthew – I wouldn’t argue against Pacino, it’s a great performance. The pool hall scene is amazing, the tension building and Carlito seeing the guy going to kill his cousin off the reflection of the guy’s sunglasses. Reminded me of the murder scene from Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.
Oh nice. I didn’t make that connection with the lense reflections. Good stuff
The scene with the Lakmé song, so great. I love the voice-over, I love his lines. The fatality of his fate, one of the saddest ending I’ve ever seen.
It’s a MS pour moi.
Watched this again, it gets better and better.
I think Penn’s Dave Kleinfeld is underrated as a Villain, I am not saying that Penn’s performance is underrated as I think it gets its proper due. But Kleinfeld the character is severely overlooked in discussions on great Villains. I think this is partially because he’s an unconventional Villain given that he gradually becomes the films Villain. Carlito (Pacino) on the other hand is the opposite as he comes across as obnoxious and borderline delusional in that opening court scene while Kleinfeld is calm, cool, and collected. Kleinfeld’s charcter slowly descends into madness almost like Bogart’s character in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The difference is Bogart’s Fred C Dobbs is primarly driven by greed while Kleinfeld is driven by greed as well but more so by his inferiority complex which again is an unusual trait of a great movie Villain.
@James Trapp- I love this- solid work here!
@Drake-Does this work better as a sequel to the Godfather Part 2 than Godfather Part 3? I think this is the closest Pacino performance I have seen to his Michael Corleone character. A lot of internalized anger. And I believe Godfather Part 3 had an extremely poor script and writing considering Pacino still had it in him to play a younger character like this. But Coppola and co seemed to be intent on making Pacino old and useless in GF3.
You rank this below or above the untouchables? Whats your new De palma top 10?
@Dylan- Thanks for the comment and question – I just need to really sit down and spend some time on the updates- so I’ll probably just wait and do that when I update the director’s individual pages
@Dylan – what is your top 10 for De Palma?
I got tentatively:
1. Blow Out (1981)
2. Dressed to Kill (1980)
3. Scarface (1983)
4. Sisters (1973) – criminally underrated
5. Carrie (1976)
6. Carlito’s Way
7. Body Double (1984)
9. Casualties of War (1989)
10. Raising Cain (1992)
1.Blow Out.- MP
2. Carrie – MP
3. Carlito’s Way – MS/MP
4. Scarface – MS
5. The Untouchables – MS
6. Body Double – HR
7. Femme Fatale – HR
8. Dressed to Kill – R
9. Snake Eyes – R
10. Obsession – R
Nobody asked this but I’m a big admirer of De Palma’s work.
My top 10 :
1 – Blow Out (MP)
2 – Scarface (MS/MP)
3 – Carlito’s Way (MS)
4 – Phantom of the Paradise (HR/MS)
5 – Carrie (HR/MS)
5 – The Untouchables (HR)
6 – Snake Eyes (R/HR)
7 – Mission Impossible (R/HR)
8 – Dressed to Kill (R/HR)
9 – Body Double (R/HR)
10 – Obsession (R/HR)
@KidCharlemagne – curious how many times you seen Body Double and Dressed to Kill? I didn’t think much of Body Double the first time but its grown on me, the mall scene in particular is masterful. Its extremely unsubtle like many of his best works, my only complaint was the bland Craig Wasson, I mean I know he’s suppose to be an “everyman” but he really just comes off as a creep. But the filmmaking is highly impressive with many of the typical De Palma visual trademarks.
My thoughts on Dressed to Kill:
For Hitchcock-isms you also have a version of the wrong man on the run trope….of course here we have the wrong woman on the run sort of as the Karen Allen character is not arrested but we are led to believe the cops strongly suspect her.
The largely silent museum scene which lasts about 9 min is one of De Palma’s most impressive of his entire career, it has a dream like quality similar to the opening scene.
There is some humous dialogue that I am not sure if the humor is intentional or not, the line up Napoleon baking as a way to relax after fighting battles
Obviously the split diopter shots are his calling card but these are really some of his best including the one with the glove (you have on the page above)
I think this a MS/MP leaning MP and personally think it’s De Palma’s best film after Blow Out
Interesting. I only watch Dressed to Kill 1 time but now i want to rewatch. I love Body Double (seen 2/3 times) and yes the bland main actor is the problem here (like most of DePalma movies, somes actors is miscast).
@KidCharlemagne – yeah let me know what you think if you watch. There is some bad acting throughout his filmography but usually doesn’t do too much damage given the nature of De Palma films. It’s a little long but good read: