Judge Ryan Keefer realized that if the straight to video prequel for Carlito's Way wasn't made, the film would have disappeared like the Taglialucci family in the East River.
"You think you're big time? You're gonna die big time!!! You ready? Here come the pain!"
Many people dismiss Carlito's Way for a number of reasons. Its star Al Pacino had collaborated with Brian De Palma once before on a film involving Latino crime figures, starring as Tony Montana in 1983's Scarface. There's a chase scene in Grand Central Station that one could say is a little derivative from De Palma's own classic, 1987's The Untouchables. So is Carlito's Way a new dog with old tricks, or is it worthy of the old "double-dip?"
Facts of the Case
Based on the books by Judge Edwin Torres and adapted to the screen by David Koepp (Panic Room), Carlito Brigante (Pacino) is freed from jail after five years due to improper wiretapping by the government. Make no mistake, Brigante was heavily involved in drug trafficking and had murdered several enemies in the past. But with this acquittal, made possible by his lawyer and longtime friend David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn, Mystic River), Carlito is born again. He vows not to commit another crime, not to go back to prison, where he'll be locked up and the key will surely be thrown away. He focuses on making enough money to buy into a legitimate business in the Caribbean, where he thinks he will have true happiness, away from the brutal crime environment in Spanish Harlem.
While Carlito was gone, a lot of things have changed around him. He meets a younger incarnation of him, who freely introduces himself as "Benny Blanco from the Bronx" (John Leguizamo, Moulin Rouge), and Carlito resists all urges to work with Benny, and he tries to reunite and reconcile with his former girlfriend Gail (Penelope Ann Miller, The Freshman). All the while, he tries to help Kleinfeld out of continually mounting problems with the criminal clients he is defending and perhaps even stealing from. Featuring a supporting cast that includes Luis Guzman (Boogie Nights) and Viggo Mortensen (A History of Violence), Carlito's Way is full of award-worthy performances and dramatic tension expertly crafted by De Palma, and for any unfair knocks about this being a largely recycled production, this is an excellent film. Its emotional depth far outweighs its "predecessor," and stands on its own merits.
Putting it this way, where Scarface may be the film that is the proverbial rock concert that sells out arenas every night, Carlito's Way is the film that is the jazz show by the accomplished sax player. Not a lot of people will see it, but those that do may love it as much, if not more, because of some of the subtleties in it. There are some scenes in this film that are excellent in different ways. Some have said the chase scene is a carbon copy from The Untouchables, but it's an unfair comparison to make. Take a look at that scene, and you'll notice a lot of set up shots and it's hard not to see how structured it is. Whereas the chase sequence in Carlito's Way starts with an uninterrupted shot for about two minutes, showing someone trying to evade the mob, always looking and hiding to make sure he's not spotted. It brings the viewer into the scene and after an already solid investment in the character, really makes the viewer a part of things. The other scene is a little more subdued, and it's where Pacino's character finds Miller's character dancing topless in a strip club. He is taken aback that she would do such a thing, and although he says that he doesn't have a problem with it, Pacino's acting really conveys just how much things have changed in his life, and the disappointment that he wasn't around to see them.
Sometimes, Pacino's Latin interpretation seems to go along the lines of Jeff Bridges' Irish accent in Blown Away, or Kevin Costner's British accent in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But the role is emotional in so many ways; the nuance is accepted for what it is. Miller is solid as the sensual, conflicted dancer who is secretly cynical of the world. Where has she gone to, by the way? And of course, as Carlito's lawyer Kleinfeld, Penn is almost unrecognizable. After this performance, he went on to bigger and better performances, but at the time, putting on a wig and prosthetic nose and receding his hair for the role was a surprise. And watching his downward spiral into corruption, lying to everyone that trusted him, is an outstanding performance all by itself, and perhaps his most dimensional performance since The Falcon and the Snowman. If the video prequel covered Kleinfeld's slide to the dark side while Carlito was in jail, perhaps it would have been a lot more interesting to people.
In terms of supplemental material for an Ultimate Edition DVD, you'd expect a commentary by the legendary director, some deleted scenes, and new interviews from the stars, all on a loaded second disc, right? Well, flip the disc over for the extra features, for starters. The deleted scenes are about 10 minutes long, and their excision from an already long 145 minutes is understandable. There's a making of piece on the film that features new interviews from Torres, Koepp, De Palma, and producer Martin Bregman. On it, both De Palma and Pacino (through Bregman) discuss their initial apprehension at being offered the film, but eventually wound up enjoying the experience. De Palma is pretty frank on the piece about working with Pacino and Penn, and discusses an argument he had with him too, but this is your usual retrospective look at a ten-year old film. The original making of featurette is here too, and at five minutes, it's nothing more than a short electronic press kit for the film. There's a still gallery with posters and photos that total about 70 pictures overall, and the trailer comes with it. To wrap things up, De Palma talks about the movie, and it looks like he's watching something off-camera while being interviewed. Perhaps it's the movie? Then why not put the film in front of him, and let him do a commentary? He provides his thoughts on the cast and story, and some production anecdotes too. On critics: "Some of the most interesting criticism you'll read on the web is from some film freak who loves movies, and gives you incredibly good insights to what you're watching." Well, no protests here, Brian.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'd say this probably isn't too "Ultimate" of an "Ultimate Edition," and with Carlito's Way: Rise to Power arriving on video, I'd venture to say that this would have probably stayed in its current format for quite some time. As it is, slapping an hour of supplemental material onto this and calling it "Ultimate" is questionable at best.
As is the case with recent Special Editions, if you already have the current edition, any money that you spend will be almost exclusively to this updated presentation, which looks good. Even though the extras are barren and somewhat disappointing, the film is excellent and worthy of revisiting.
The filmmakers are found not guilty, due to their excellent work. Universal is found guilty is producing a haphazard Ultimate Edition, and is sentenced to instructor-led teaching by outstanding DVD producers such as David Prior (The Fly) and Charles de Lauzirika (Alien Quadrilogy). Court is adjourned.
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