This film is often seen as the follow up to Brian De Palma's `Scarface (Widescreen Anniversary Edition), and while the films share a logical line of progression and the same director and star, they're not related really. The recent viewing of this movie for the first time since it was released in the mid 90s confirmed my long held beliefs: this is some of Mr. Pacino's best work on film along with great performances from Penelope Ann Miller (his love interest) and Sean Penn (Carlito's lawyer).
Brian De Palma makes one of his best (and under-rated) films by letting the viewer be as self-aware of the on-coming clichés and pit-falls of the drama the story intones, just by the narration. The aged, contemplative voice of Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) that chimes in more often than not, is as essential to the way the story unfolds as Henry Hill's was to `GoodFellas'- this guys been on the inside, he knows the ropes, he knows the stakes, he knows the nature of the beast that goes with the people he associates with, and now that he's out of prison, he doesn't want it anymore. Un-like a lesser film, we start to believe his intentions and reasoning's.
Carlito's just been released, thanks in part to his counselor David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn), five years gone in a thirty year sentence, and when he returns to the street many look at him as if he's changed hearing that he's retired. Carlito just wants to get some money together, open a car dealership of sorts with a friend in the Bahamas, and works in a nightclub right smack dab in the heart of the coked up late 70's. As Carlito's tale unfolds, so does Kleinfeld's, as an inmate who's a client of his makes a demand that he can't turn down, which in turn brings a perpetually reluctant Carlito along with him. Carlito proves to be a complex character with a solid understanding of what's right and wrong, as well as very strong ambitions. These two traits are quite often opposed with one another, and it is in this conflict that De Palma brings out the best of Pacino. Somewhere along the way Carlito has won you to his cause, and despite the character flaws and set backs, you want to see him achieve his dream. But as the story unfolds, the stakes and risks are greater and his success seems less likely.
What I especially enjoyed in this movie was the narration Pacino had of Carlito in many crucial or pivotal parts of the script. Unlike many of his more well known and recognized roles, where Pacino had long brooding scenes, it was left to our imagination to often times wonder what the character was thinking. In Carlito's Way we are offered a glimpse into that thought process, and it is quite rewarding in fact. magnificent set-pieces that confirm De Palma's worth as a director of thrillers as well as dramas, this is an example of Hollywood movie-making that is waiting to be discovered over and over again, as proof of the value that can come in re-fashioning a genre piece.