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Sprung from prison on a legal technicality by his cocaine-addled attorney, former drug kingpin Carlito Brigante stuns the local underworld when he vows to go straight. Taking a job managing a glitzy, low-life nightclub, he tracks down his onetime girlfriend and rekindles their romance, promising he's changed for good. But Carlito's dream of going legitimate is undermined at every turn by murderous former cronies and even deadlier young thugs out to make a name for themselves.
For more about Carlito's Way and the Carlito's Way Blu-ray release, see Carlito's Way Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 22, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, John Leguizamo, Ingrid Rogers, Luis Guzmán
Director: Brian De Palma
» See full cast & crew
Carlito's Way Blu-ray Review
'Scarface' redux? Not really, though the same director and star revisit mobster territory in this visceral crime thriller.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 22, 2010
There's a fine line between crafting an hommage and outright ripping someone off. Probably no director has suffered the slings and arrows of both categories than Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock was so distinctive in both technique and subject matter that whole generations of directors have come along to mimic his style and narrative proclivities. Sometimes they've just outright aped him, as in Gus Van Sant's intellectually interesting but artistically hollow remake of Psycho, a film that literally copied (more or less, with a couple of notable exceptions) every shot, angle and supposed nuance of Hitchcock's 1960 masterpiece. All that was missing was the terror and subtext which Hitchcock alone seemed to be able to effortlessly bring to not just this particular film, but all of his great achievements. Sometimes the copying has been a little more subtle, as in the case of Brian De Palma, who visited the often twisted psychological landscape of Hitchcock in several films (notably Obsession, Body Double and, perhaps, Dressed to Kill), while at least touching tangentially on several major themes of the Master of Suspense in other films like Carrie and Sisters. De Palma has in fact made no secret of his love of not just Hitchcock, but a whole gallery of iconic filmmakers, often quoting their set pieces outright or indicating his sources without much obfuscation. You might get Eisenstein in The Untouchables or Antonioni in Blow Out. And so one is left to wonder if a director can actually rip himself off when he's spent so much of his career unabashedly imitating other directors' set pieces and overall styles. Carlito's Way is in many ways a retread of De Palma's previous effort with Pacino, Scarface (itself a remake of sorts, of course), covering the same gangster ethos as that other film, but with a perhaps grittier psychological subtext made especially visceral as a result of the flashback technique of the narrative.
Carlito's Way was made in 1993, a sort of crossroads for De Palma. After a number of notable successes, he had hit a rough patch with flops like Bonfires of the Vanities and Raising Cain. Ten years after his version of Scarface De Palma returned to Pacino playing a mobster, albeit one desperately trying to go straight and extricate himself from his life of crime. Carlito's Way was based on two exciting novels by an actual Judge, Edwin Torres, the eponymous novel and its followup After Hours, which actually provided the bulk of the plot for David Koepp's screenplay. The filmmakers opted for the Carlito's Way title to avoid confusion with Martin Scorsese's scabrous black comedy from 1985 starring Griffin Dunne as a hapless word processor caught in a Kafkaesque series of mishaps.
This is a film filled to the brim with virtuoso performances. While some may accuse Pacino (perhaps rightfully so) of rehashing Tony Montana in a sort of "kinder, gentler" mode, the actor brings a depth of feeling and growing remorse to his Carlito Brigante that really sets this character totally apart from Montana's take no prisoners approach. Penelope Ann Miller is a lovely presence as love interest Gail, a woman seeking to help show Carlito a way out of his former life. John Leguizamo, Luis Guzman and Viggo Mortensen are also on hand in supporting roles as cohorts (and in one case a betrayer) of Carlito, each of them bringing a lot of snap and presence to their performances. But the film quite simply belongs to Sean Penn in an incredible, nearly unrecognizable turn as Carlito's attorney and supposed best friend David Kleinfeld. Penn, with the front of his head shaved to mimic a receding hairline, and the rest of his hair dyed red and permed to be curly, inhabits the sleazy, duplicitous role completely, making Kleinfeld the ambiguous center of a story filled with moral decrepitude and despondency. It is one of the greatest performances of an actor who has repeatedly defied expectations with a series of radically different roles.
The film plays out as a dialectic between Carlito's dreams of escape (symbolized by a neon sign showing people relaxing on a Caribbean beach) and the relentless forces of his former lifestyle which repeatedly suck him back into the world of gangsters and crime. As inexorable as gravity, those forces pull Carlito down into a vicious series of events culminating in several violent deaths, ultimately leading to Carlito's realization that several people in his own inner circle have been both figuratively and literally gunning for him. Since the film is told in flashback, there's really no mystery to how this tragic story is going to unfold, but De Palma's sure footed staging of several virtuoso set pieces keeps the audience guessing in terms of several subplots and character motivations.
De Palma was soon to prove his mettle once again with meticulously staged action sequences in Mission: Impossible, but the fact is the director has always had a more or less inerrant eye for set pieces from his earliest successes from the 1970's. Carlito's Way shows De Palma stretching his directorial muscles with several excitingly long takes, often with complex tracking or crane shots, none of which are overtly showy enough to draw the viewer out of the story, but which, upon reflection, show De Palma trying to craft a visceral style for himself that perhaps finally breaks free of any previous directorial influences.
Carlito's Way didn't quite achieve critical mass on its initial release, and only in the subsequent almost two decades since its premiere has achieved a sort of cult status, newly appreciated as one of De Palma's most interesting character studies. De Palma has always had a superb touch with actors, and aside from the expert framing he employs throughout this film, the performances may indeed be the lasting legacy of Carlito's Way. This is a film full of shifting allegiances and motivations, and De Palma and Koepp keep the myriad character impulses clear and precise. Luckily they're supported by a stellar assortment of actors, most at the top of their game. Pacino had in fact just come off his Oscar win for Scent of a Woman and he seems to relish the chance to play a character this conflicted, at times incredibly naïve and at others unbelievably street smart. Ultimately, though, it's Penn's work that is going to stick most forcefully with a lot of viewers. You may in fact not believe you're actually seeing the actor when you first lay eyes on David Kleinfeld, so startling is the transformation, both physically and psychologically. It's one of the most commanding tours-de-force in relatively recent film, and if you're drawn to Carlito's Way for no other reason than to experience this incredible performance, you most likely won't come away disappointed.
Carlito's Way Blu-ray, Video Quality
Carlito's Way blasts its way onto Blu-ray in a blood red VC-1 encoded transfer in full 1080p and a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Universal hasn't exactly been treating its catalog titles with a lot of care lately (Out of Africa and Spartacus are two recent, largely lamentable examples). The bad news is Universal doesn't seem to have done much with Carlito, following in the footsteps of those other, perhaps more illustrious, releases. The good news is that means no hideous edge enhancement and no apparent DNR. The bad news is the print does not seem to have been cleaned or restored, so there is occasional very slight damage and debris. The good news (is this ping pong or something?) is the film looks excellently sharp overall and well detailed, and colors are excitingly vibrant, especially on the red end of the spectrum. Black levels and contrast are very strong, and shadow detail is really exceptional. De Palma uses some interesting multi-hued palettes throughout the movie, which play out like a sort of nightmarish episode of pastel-laden Miami Vice, and the Blu-ray reproduces this wide variety of shades brilliantly. The film actually starts in a post-processed black and white sequence, and contrast is exceptional in those moments.
Carlito's Way Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Carlito's Way's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix may not be as bombastic as some audiophiles might be expecting, especially considering the subject matter, but it's really a good track in and of itself, with a full and well rendered soundfield and some of the more consistently active rear channel effects I've heard recently. One of the greatest pleasures of this track is the absolutely gorgeous underscore by Patrick Doyle, with elegiac string writing which is very redolent of Barber's "Adagio for Strings" and Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis." While some of the foley effects like gunshots sound compressed and overly narrow, balance between dialogue, score and effects is very well modulated, with dialogue always easy to hear and directionally well placed.
Carlito's Way Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Some, but not all, of the extras on the SD-DVD release of Carlito's Way have been ported over to this release:
Carlito's Way Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Brian De Palma manages to helm a film that delivers a lot of cinematic sweep while also offering uniformly excellent performances by Pacino, Miller, a great supporting cast, and most especially Penn in one of his most unusual interpretations. It's dour and unrelenting, but Carlito's Way is never less than fully involving and comes recommended.
Carlito's Way: Other Editions
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Carlito's Way Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Carlito's Way Blu-ray in May - February 18, 2010
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that, on May 18, it will give a BD release to Carlito's Way, one of the most eagerly-awaited titles that the studio had released on the defunct HD DVD format. Unlike other upcoming catalog titles from Universal, ...
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