1993 // USA // Brian De Palma // April 9, 2010 // Laserdisc - MCA / Universal
While Carlito's Way bears that telltale De Palma touch of the Grand Guignol, it's positively staid compared to the excesses of the director's earlier Latino crime epic, Scarface. And therein lies the root of the former film's most conspicuous faults, for in tossing out the operatic lunacy while clinging to the shameless melodrama, De Palma neuters Carlito, rendering it essentially indistinguishable from any other gangster flick. That said, there's plenty to admire here. Presenting only the final chapter of an underworld titan's fall is an admittedly novel approach, and it's fairly remarkable how De Palma sketches in so much back-story with so little exposition. While the film's violence often seems dispiritingly obligatory, it's also presented as a nasty, messy business. Tellingly, Carlito often bests his enemies through bravado and trickery rather than brute force, and the film privileges the competing criminal virtues of preparation and adaptability. Pacino, with a laughably protean Puerto Rican accent, is fully in his post-Sea of Love self-parody phase here, but Sean Penn, behind child-molester glasses and beneath a Larry Fine 'fro, is deliciously loathsome as criminal defense attorney David Kleinfeld. Unfortunately, Carlito feels like a middling gangster drama from an aging stylist who is capable of much more. (see: Ridley Scott.) Most exasperating is De Palma's affinity for torpedoing the film's most appealing moments. This unfortunate tendency is epitomized in a scene where Carlito's ex-flame Gail (Penelope Ann Miller) enticingly suggests that he could break down her chained apartment door if he really wanted to ravage her. What song does De Palma use to cap this searingly erotic sequence? Joe Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful." Yeesh.