I have always been a big fan of Al Pacino. He has a style, a look and an intensity that is all his own. He has been an important part of American Cinema in the last 30 years and played such famous (and near legendary) roles like Michael Corleone, Frank Serpico, Sonny Wortzik, and my personal favorite…a tie between Ricky Roma and Big Boy Caprice. No one will ever be able to replace him and he is just compelling to watch on-screen. I believe that, although his efforts in the last decade have been nowhere the talent he is capable of, Pacino, none-the-less, is one of my all-time favorite actors. To most people, he is more known for Tony Montana than Carlito Brigante. Sure, Scarface has more notoriety, more quotable lines and a better accent but Carlito’s Way is just an all around better movie.
The film follows the story of Carlito ‘Charlie’ Brigante’s early release from prison after his case was overturned. After his years of street crime (which put him away to begin with) Carlito is looking to put that all behind him and use this “second chance” as a way to sort the rest of his life out. Sean Penn, who although funny looking, was able to pull off a semi-professional but still slimeball role as Carlito’s friend and lawyer Kleinfeld. His greed quickly turns him into an untrustworthy and unsavory character and Penn basically does a good job at making you not like him. Penelope Ann Miller as Gail wouldn’t have been my 1st or even 5th choice for this movie but she was a surprising addition to the cast, and I think she was a good fit for the role. Her scenes (when they called for it) were dramatic and she played very well off Pacino. She showed that as Carlito, while being in prison, had gotten a little softer, she had gotten a little tougher (which she certainly got from being with him). Her inferred sheepish personality was replaced with an “I can do it on my own” outlook and Carlito just found that captivating.
Certain scenes in the film needed emphasis and while some people might view them as being a little too slow, I think they were necessary. Doing so really helped develop a connection to the characters allowing the mood to build and allow the story to unfold appropriately. I particularly liked the apartment scene where Charlie proclaims that the street is all he knows and loyalty to his friend means he can’t back out on his promise, even if it means his downfall. That was just a raw and powerful scene, mainly because the delivery was so simple but emotional. It resembled a great stage performance rather than a doctored and layered “movie scene”. Well planned camera angles/movement abounded and were especially essential to this film’s climax. Also, the continuous shots at the train station really made you feel like you were part of the action. As if to make up for certain slow pace and emotion building scenes (which again were essential) this film definitely delivered the action to add to a very exciting, emotional and memorable ending, almost similar to how De Palma did it in The Untouchables.
Even though he was riveting in this film, my recent qualm with Pacino is that, after Any Given Sunday (which was a great performance), I think he either got tired or just stopped caring. The films he’s been in in the last decade have just been disappointing. Starting with S1m0ne, he just seems to walk through each scene and the movies themselves are similarly flat and unremarkable. I have heard that The Merchant of Venice really resembled his intensity of his films from 20 years ago, so I am going to check that out. But to his and similarly Robert DeNiro’s credit, he really doesn’t have anything left to prove – he is already a legend, what more do you expect?
Before I finish I want to write something I’ve wanted to say for years, which is: “I never liked Scarface“. Even though most people think the world of it, I’m going to go on a limb here and say it was just a very juvenile movie. The only thing making it worth watching was Al Pacino, who, I will admit, did nothing but shine. More to praise this film, the character of Carlito was so much more interesting, and well, just plain likable. He definitely captured the essence of someone you’d want to root for especially since he was getting a “second chance”. Comparing the two, Brian De Palma made Carltio’s Way a subtler but more impacting film and I see Charlie in Carlito’s Way as a refined and grown up role for Pacino to play as opposed to Tony Montana. Scarface is more popular to kids now than to the adults who saw it when it was in the theaters, so that serves more to my point.
To me, Carlito’s Way is so well done in terms of adapting the novel as a screenplay, pacing, and just outstanding performances from a varied but rich cast. Lastly, if you’ve not done this, watch into the end credits where the subway sign turns into the image of Gail dancing on a beach…and make sure to watch that entire scene out. It delivers a final perfect (and almost tear inducing) emotional touch to the film. This is a film where I believe that Pacino is truly at his best.
G-S-T Ruling: 4/5
G-S-T Seal of approval: GRANTED