"Carlito's Way" DVD, Blu-Ray Review

5/23/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-Ray Review

"Carlito's Way"

Directed by Brian De Palma, Written by David Koepp, 144 Minutes, Rated R

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

"I know about cars--I've been stealing them since I was 14."

This is what Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) tells his shady lawyer Dave Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) after being released from prison on a technicality. Sentenced to 30 years for murder and drug trafficking, Carlito sees his early release as a sign that he should quit his life of crime and go clean, and his way of doing so is investing in a car rental place in the Bahamas.

That one line is a fair hint of what "Carlito's Way" offers. Coming right off of his Oscar win for "Scent of a Woman," Pacino goes all-out nuts with his performance, perhaps even moreso than in that previous film (but not quite as much as in "Scarface"). He's not too bad in spite of the fact that his charisma and style goes to waste in this rather dreary tale.

For most of the film, Carlito makes innocent attempts to keep himself out of trouble, but as Pacino's other (and far, far better) criminal mastermind said, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." The streets are full of petty thugs trying to get into the smack business themselves, the crazed and coked-out Kleinfeld forces Carlito to help him with his conflict with an imprisoned mob boss and former client, and an obnoxious new guy in town, Benny Blanco (John Leguizamo), tries to take Carlito down for blowing him off too many times. It doesn't help that Carlito is attempting to reconnect with an old flame, Gail (Penelope Ann Miller).

Like most of Brian De Palma's work, this is just a lot of the same. He takes cues from every director who ever influenced him and adds practically nothing of his own, aside from showy and arbitrary tracking shots and stilted action sequences. I don't know what De Palma would do if he ever had to come up with something of his own. All of that said, as arbitrary as De Palma's tracking shots are, they're pretty good-looking, as always. He has a real visual talent, it just tends to get stifled by his tremendously dull and derivative stories.

How you take Pacino's performance really depends on what Pacino you prefer--there's "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Heat" Pacino, who manages to balance the insanity with nuance and honest, quiet emotion; and there's the Pacino we know now, who screams his way through every scene, but is generally amusing. Both work for me, depending on the material, but he really doesn't do much here. If you want this Pacino, you might as well go with "Scent of a Woman" or "Scarface."

Penn probably stands out more than Pacino, and his slimey lawyer character should be an inspiration to similar characters everywhere.

"Carlito's Way" opened to a pretty middling reception, but it's gotten consistently more popular as the years have gone by. I'm not sure why--everything that people criticized is still here, and the years certainly haven't done it any favors. Pacino is just fine and Penn is solid, but both have done far better, and this is typically mediocre stuff from De Palma. It's not really a bad film, and it has some exciting moments, but mostly, it's average fluff from an average filmmaker. Passably entertaining at best, and a strong sign of the slow decline in quality Pacino's career would go through less than a decade later.

Grade: C-

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