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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/3/98

Carlito's Way
1993 (1998) - Universal Studios

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Film Rating: A
Brian De Palma trained long and hard to make this film -- his best directing turn. The story of an aging kingpin and his road towards redemption may be covered with broken glass, but it's a treat to watch him take the journey.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/D
One of the finest transfers of any disc, and a sound field that can't be touched. But lack of substantive extras is really disappointing.

Overall Rating: -B
It drives me crazy to see so many great films being released to DVD without the kind of extras they deserve. Maybe in time, Universal will see the importance of this film and go back and re-release this as a collector's edition.

Specs and Features

145 minutes, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), RSDL dual-layer (layer switch in Chapter 8 at 73.40), Amaray keep case packaging, trailer, production notes, cast and crew bios, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: Spanish, Close Captioned


Brian De Palma, is that virtuoso director who turns the camera into another player in his personal worlds. You never really simply watch a De Palma film -- you live it, even if just for a few hours. This is coming from someone who isn't a big fan of De Palma's work. I find that most of his work is mediocre and derivative. But the few pieces of his world I do like, I feel are some of the great films of recent film history. Scarface, The Untouchables and Carlito's Way are some of my favorite films focusing on crime. This is because, one of the true talents De Palma has as an artist, is his appreciation of characters. It also helps that he gets really great writers to create some of his characters -- and that he gets the world's greatest character actors to bring them to life. Carlito's Way is one of De Palma's great efforts, combing a wonderful script, grand camera work and a cast that can't be beat.

Carlito's Way is the story of Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino), a former drug kingpin out of Spanish Harlem, NYC. Carlito is sprung from a long prison term by his cokehead attorney, played with wild abandon by Sean Penn (marking his return from an early retirement). Carlito swears to himself -- and everybody else, that he is finally going straight, heading to the islands and starting up a car rental agency. Most everyone who knows Charlie, knows that he won't follow through on this plan. But Charlie is convinced he can follow through and he's quite dedicated to his dream. Of course, it's sort of hard for Charlie, when these friends of his keep introducing elements that he really doesn't need into his life. Beside the ill-advised association with Penn's character, Carlito has Luis Guzman (Boogie Nights) playing his right hand man who's only in it for the cash -- and loyalty is secondary to cash money. There's also the super silly "Benny Blanco from the Bronx" (John Leguizamo) who represents the old Carlito, an analogy Carlito himself doesn't seem to recognize -- or at least refuses to. Carlito would sooner smack Benny in the face and send him head long down a flight of stairs, than sit with him and share a glass of champagne. The one redeeming thing in Carlito's life is his ex-girlfriend (Penelope Ann Miller) -- an aspiring dancer currently working strip clubs -- and hey, that's dancing in my book.

Carlito puts his blinders on and heads forward, never minding the bloody family reunion he has with his young cousin, double-dealing business associates, or the apocalyptic mob hit operated by his attorney. He heads towards his goal of making a legitimate 75,000 bucks by operating a Latin disco. And he almost makes it too. But, no, there can't be a happy ending for Carlito -- there never is, for his type. The film opens with his assassination, and the following movie is just the random thoughts of a dying man, so it's not giving anything away to say Carlito is a dead man walking throughout the film. But a piece of me wants to believe that the doctors do find "all the stitches in the world" and sew him back together again. Part of me fell in love with the character, and wanted to halfway think that Carlito walks upon the beaches of his tropical dream in an unseen epilogue.

In terms of DVD audio and video quality, Carlito's Way is a dream come true. It's a wonderful and flawless transfer. Colors are pure and bright -- the various neon and rain shots come together incredibly well with no noise or compression problems to report. The sound is top notch, and with this soundtrack it better be. Gun shots ring and echo, and the scenes in the disco with the swirling, raising and falling volume can't be matched.

Unfortunately, the extras are pretty much non-existent, which is sad. The standard issue production notes, cast and crew bios and trailer are all here, but that's it. A commentary track would have been real nice, but it just doesn't look like De Palma does them, which is -- again, sad.

Bottom line

Carlito's Way is without a doubt De Palma's finest film. It combines everything that makes him a master craftsman, and allowed him to work with the finest cast he's ever assembled (with the exception of The Untouchables). Pacino is wonderful, Penn is also at his best and Leguizamo shines in a star-making turn. The lack of extras is really disappointing, but If you love movies (and strive to collect the true masterpieces of cinema), then this is one for the shelves.

Todd Doogan
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