Movie #3 2021: Carlito’s Way (1993)

One day, I will have watched every single Al Pacino film. There’s no secret that he’s one of my favourite actors of all time, and I gain yet another knot on my Pacino bed post by viewing this 1993 classic.

Directed by Brian De Palma, Carlito’s Way is based on two novels (Carlito’s Way and After Hours), written by Judge Edwin Torres, formerly of the New York State Supreme Court. The film – which is apparently quite faithful to the books – focuses on the exploits of fictional Puerto Rican gangster, Carlito Brigante. It begins with Brigante’s lawyer (Sean Penn) helping to get him released from prison, and Brigante swears that he has turned a new leaf and will never be in prison again. Of course, things don’t go quite as he expected when his cousin leads him to a gang of drug dealers and things go awry. Before he knows it, Carlito is forced back into a world of crime, and things only get worse when his lawyer goes off the deep end and gets into a huge amount of trouble.

Al Pacino is the coolest mother fucker to ever step foot on a movie set. That’s a fact. Why they didn’t cast an actual Puerto Rican actor in this role is beyond be, but I guess this was the nineties and casting appropriately according to race/background was really not thought about sadly.

Apparently Pacino received some criticism for this movie, (not due to the Puerto Rican thing, but due to his ‘poor’ performance) but fuck that. He’s absolutely magnetic in this role, putting in an immense amount of work and starring in pretty much every single scene. It’s unfair to criticise his performance in Carlito’s Way based purely on the greatness of his others – he’s no worse here than in anything else I’ve seen him in. Is it his best performance? No. But he’s still ten times better than anyone else would have been.

In terms of direction, the way Brian De Palma shoots this movie is so unique and eye-catching. The use of colour and the unconventional angles make this much more than your average gangster movie. There’s so much comparison to The Untouchables, but for me this was much more aesthetically inventive and pleasing. It’s certainly not as iconic as the former, but visually, I’d rather watch this again. (Costumes not withstanding – the costumes in The Untouchables are clearly far superior.)

It’s not all brilliance, I will admit. The sequences set around the central romance are a little corny, with an overbearing score that makes it all feel more rom-com than crime drama. Thankfully, the popular music soundtrack is fantastic, with its mish-mash of Puerto Rican salsa and disco anthems from the 70s. It’s truly fitting and kind of obvious when you think about it, but it’s also a very interesting combination that you would be hard pushed to find in any other English language movie.

It’s overly long, bordering on exhibitionist from De Palma, and there are entire sequences that could have ended up on the cutting room floor and no one would have noticed. However, the masterful performances and stylish camerawork make it worth the watch, even if it’s no Goodfellas.

Carlito’s Way is available to stream on Sky Cinema and Now TV in the UK.

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