IT must have seemed a good idea at the time. Brian De Palma directing Al Pacino in another gangster thriller. Except this was less Scarface and more left with a scar on your head with all the head scratching Carlito’s Way leaves you.
If it hadn’t been for the names on the marque this film would never have been allocated any sizable budget. It is a disappointing waste of some very talented actors of that generation.
The plot is the same tired old, drug dealer trying to retire but keeps running into trouble. It seems as if those involved with the film also realise this, in fact Pacino who plays the title character Carlito Brigante, stops just short of yawning his way through the entirety of the film.
Carlito has been let out of prison following some lawyery chicanery by his friend Dave Kleinfeld. Once out Carlito wants to raise some money to start a car hire firm in the Bahamas, he reunites with his former squeeze Gail played by Penelope Ann Miller. Her presence is no doubt an attempt to inject some emotion in a cast full of testosterone driven, gun wielding men. Yet she is irrelevant and De Palma struggles to use her as anything other than a passive moll.
Carlito’s Way is meant to be an antidote to the nihilistic Scarface on which Pacino and De Palma teamed up previously. The film is more withdrawn yet De Palma looks to bring the stylish camera work to this film as well. Except it doesn’t come off, it feels off-beat and out of place. The twisty camera that revolves 360 degrees is poor and the canted framing is cheap.
Sean Penn brings some life to the film if only for his anarchic portrayal of Carlito’s lawyer friend Dave. The character is irksome, yet works in this dark underworld. The films strength lies in the few moments when it shows the characters straddling that thin line between morality and amorality. Such as Carlito trying hard to stay on the straight and narrow and Dave sliding into becoming a mobster himself.
In that sense the film works, after all the films title “Carlito’s Way” is what it suggests. It’s just a shame that in a post-Miami Vice world De Palma couldn’t pull off the heavily stylised effect he was going for and that he relied on worn out plot devices to chronicle Carlito’s way.