This post is part of Head in a Vice‘s ‘Recommended By’ blogathon. The idea here is pretty simple, you know that one movie that you’ve been recommended over and over and yet never seem to get around to watching? Well this blogathon makes you actually get on and finally check it out. I chose Carlito’s Way for my contribution and I am so glad that I did! Take a look at my thoughts below:
Carlito’s Way reunites director Brian De Palma and Al Pacino ten years after Scarface. There are similarities between the two films; namely Pacino playing a criminal who’s battling his own flaws amidst De Palma’s expected directorial techniques. However Carlito is older, wearer and somewhat wiser than Tony Montana was. He’s just left a thirty year stint in prison after doing only five due to his lawyer’s (an almost unrecognisable Sean Penn) diligent work in finding a technicality which can spell his release. Now that he is out all he wants to do is retire, but his old life and friends keep on knocking at his door.
Carlito’s Way is about many things; it’s about itself and the genre, it’s about the fatalism of man’s own actions and thankfully its also about having a great time with some very tense and well directed action sequences, but more on that later. The film opens with Carlito taking a couple of bullets to the chest, we don’t see the face of his attacker, but as we flashback to an earlier point in the story we know that the shooting will inform every moment of the film from then on. We know how this one is going to end and so the story becomes the trap in which Carlito is caught; every twist and turn he makes to try and go clean only drives him closer to that end moment. Films like this are to be relished. There is something that’s equally exciting and dread laden about watching a tragic story work its way towards the inevitable moment. When it’s done well like this we find ourselves considering every action, trying to figure out a way he can escape the snare he is driving himself towards, and allowing ourselves to hope that perhaps he will figure it out in the end. I will not spoil how this one winds up except to say that it is appropriately satisfying.
As I mentioned earlier the action here is very good. It feels fresh despite using some set pieces that we have seen before and the tension that’s created is a particular highlight of the movie. Just as the action, despite being praiseworthy, does use ideas and locations that have come before it, so to does the plot. There is no doubt that Carlito’s Way feels like a retread of many films that have gone before it, and it doesn’t really bring much new to the table. However, that isn’t really a problem because whilst it is something we have seen before, we’ve rarely seen it done as well as this before. It doesn’t put a foot wrong in its tone, pace, story, direction or performances and it’s rare indeed that I can say that of a film. My one real criticism of the film though is the voice over narration. It doesn’t feel like it’s adding much to the picture, instead it just feels lazy and simplistic. Perhaps if it was reduced in regularity somewhat it would be more bearable, but as it is it is just a distraction.
Pacino and De Palma are teaming up again soon with the Paterno biopic and so it’s going to be pretty interesting to see how that matches up against this one and Scarface. Not that mentioning these two in the same breath is always that useful, Carlito’s Way often seems to suffer from being described as being similar to it’s more famous older brother, but it shouldn’t do. In many ways the two films are rather good companion pieces, they have their complimentary similarities but ultimately are two very different looks at the mechanisms of crime, man’s fatalism, and violence. If you haven’t seen them yet then I highly recommend that you do.
What is the film’s greatest strength? Hmmm… there’s a lot to pick from but I’ll go with Pacino himself on this one.
Its greatest weakness? The voice over feels redundant and breaks you too far out of the film.
Would I see it again? Sure, I look forward to revisiting it in a few months or so.
Shoot out your thoughts in the comment box below!