Carlito's Way

Director: Brian De Palma

To say that Brian De Palma loves movies is an understatement. Film buff De Palma has turned cinematic homage into an art form referencing pictures that span the globe and nearly every work he creates can be analyzed not only in the manner of entertainment but film students will delight in exploring the varied influences that pour from several frames. Some are more prominent than others such as Obsession, De Palma’s uneven spin on Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Scarface which was a remake of the 1932 gangster classic, Blow Out that came from Antonioni’s foreign Blow-Up and of course, De Palma’s most discussed homage of the shootout on the staircase with a baby carriage going down the train station steps in The Untouchables that was directly inspired by Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin.

In Carlito’s Way which reunites the director with both the star of Scarface (Al Pacino) and one from Casualties of War (Sean Penn), De Palma has another climax that’s indicative of the one used in Untouchables although it was his second choice after hoping to shoot the film’s finale in the World Trade Center which after the first attack was unavailable in ’93. That homage, while accidental, is one of a few others that call attention to themselves in more subtle ways such as using the same name for Al Pacino’s character’s nightclub (El Paraiso) as a food stand from Scarface and filming a tense hospital scene that recalls Pacino’s brilliant work in a similar scene from Coppola’s The Godfather and indeed, the exterior is the same as the one in the mafia classic (IMDb).

Carlito’s Way which was adapted by Jurassic Park and Spiderman screenwriter David Koepp from two novels by Edwin Torres chronicles Carlito “Charlie” Brigante (Pacino), who after being released from prison in the 70’s on a technical appeal after serving five years finds himself struggling with the decision to go straight after he is caught in the crossfire of a brutal shootout and drug deal gone bad. Using the money he claims from the crime to buy his way into the New York nightclub business, the Puerto Rican ex-con tries to reconnect with old flame Gail (Penelope Ann Miller) and rectify his feelings of indebtedness to his shady attorney David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn). Nearly impossible to recognize under the makeup, wig and costuming of the time period, Penn who was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance (along with Miller) reportedly signed on to do the film solely to make enough money to fund The Crossing Guard, his second work as a director (IMDb).

Featuring impressive character work by actors ranging from an impossibly young Viggo Mortensen as a wheelchair bound con, John Leguizamo as a dangerous up-and-comer that Pacino (possibly reminded of himself) tries desperately to avoid, and Luis Guzman among others, Carlito’s Way is a compelling if minor gangster film that is unfortunately hindered by a lame voice over at the film’s end that is so filled with clich├ęs and pseudo "wiseguy" speak it may cause unintentional laughter. Disappointing to end the film on such a forgettable, B-movie cheesy note but even weak De Palma is better than a majority of post Scarface gangster films that would populate the Tarantino-inspired (a De Palma fan himself) late 90’s.