Film Flashback – Carlito’s Way

Carlito's Way

To my mind, Carlito’s Way is Brian de Palma’s most mature work. Less bonkers and visceral than Scarface, less self-indulgent than Snake Eyes, it’s a complete package.

Set in New York in 1975, it focuses on ex-con Carlito Brigante, a man who recognises that his old life will kill him if he lets it. His simple dream is to put enough money away to move to Florida and run a car dealership. His attorney David Kleinfeld gives him a club to run, he rekindles a relationship with an old girlfriend, life is good.

Of course, life then conspires to pull him back into old gangster business. Kleinfeld, threatened by the mob, asks Brigante to do “one last job” and as we know, these never go well.

Pacino is at his most charismatic in a performance that, for the most part, avoids his worst dramatic excesses. Called upon to be proud, scared, loving, strong, he is utterly believable; far less cartoonlike than Tony Montana, far more accessible than Lefty in Donnie Brasco.

Sean Penn is an utter revelation as Kleinfeld, the role that brought him back to acting and allowed him to finance The Crossing Guard. For those of you who have played Grand Theft Auto, Kleinfeld will seem very familiar. Penelope Ann Miller too seems to have a better time than most women in De Palma’s movies, thanks to a David Koepp screenplay that allows her to be Brigante’s equal, rather than just the woman hanging on his arm.

At the time, the film was criticised for retreading the old ground of both Scarface and The Untouchables, but this does it a great disservice. It has more humanity than both of those films.

De Palma, for once, seems more intent on making a great movie than simply showing that he’s seen great movies. Every shot is perfectly framed, the soundtrack is superb, and the supporting cast (including John Leguizamo, Viggo Mortensen and Adrian Pasdar), exceptional.

This tale of a gangster trying to make good is not a new one, but it is beautifully realised, shot and acted; not some trite little story, as the critics may have led you to believe.

This was originally posted over at The Day Hollywood Stood Still on the 2nd June, 2010.


~ by moviegrrlreviews on June 7, 2010.

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