After the disastrous "Bonfire of the Vanities", director
Brian De Palma recovered his career by making a
sure-fire, more conventional film: a crime drama starring
Al Pacino. While no one will put "Carlito's Way" in
the same category as "The Godfather", it is a slightly
better film than it has been given credit for. There
is much dramatic tension, the presence of Sean Penn
adds pathos, and the disco-era soundtrack is good.
"Carlito's Way" is based on the true story of Charlie
Brigante. Brigante (Pacino) is a career criminal,
released from prison in 1975. He has a deserved
reputation as a narcotics kingpin, but tries to go
straight upon his release. He runs a disco nightclub,
but inevitably events and loyalties pull him back
into criminal activity. David Kleinfeld (Penn)
is his brilliant but unstable lawyer, Penelope Ann
Miller is his girlfriend, Luis Guzman is his bodyguard.
John Leguizamo has a small but important part as
rising gangster Benny Blanco from the Bronx.
In "Scarface", Pacino was a Cuban gangster. In
"Carlito's Way", he is a Puerto Rican gangster. (In a
rare moment of comedy, an Italian mobster comments
that Pacino 'even looks Italian'.) Pacino is stonefaced
throughout, but he has an intense, world-weary coolness
that gives him star presence. Sean Penn is well-cast
for his character, initially smug but soon decaying into
a psychopathic cokehead. Miller is lovely but looks
unhappy throughout, adding to the 'onset of doom' feeling
that permeates the film. Penn and Miller received
Golden Globe nomimations for their performances.
I'll always take a disco soundtrack over a John Williams
score, but someone should have told Jellybean Benitez
that Cheryl Lynn's hit "Got to Be Real" was from 1979.
The best part of "Carlito's Way" is the dramatic
tension. Pacino has to resort to gunplay on several
occasions, and admittedly these are the best scenes.
Copyright © 1993 Brian Koller