Carlito’s Way 4K UHD Review: Sad Streets

It’s more than just a Scarface (1983) reunion. In Carlito’s Way (1993), director Brian De Palma and Al Pacino give us a moving, suspenseful gangster flick.

New York, 1975: Carlito Brigante (Pacino) is a sweet yet tough Puerto Rican hood just out of jail on a technicality, having served only five of 30 years. The dude’s reformed; he wants to go straight; once he’s saved up enough dough, he plans to hightail it to the Bahamas with his old flame, Gail (a miscast Penelope Ann Miller), to rent cars to tourists. But the barrio keeps pulling him back in; and his slick, coked-out lawyer (a brilliant Sean Penn)—not to mention run-ins with Benny from the Bronx (John Leguizamo), a flashy punk who reminds Carlito of his younger self—and Carlito’s loyalty to an outmoded code of honor among thieves—keep him on his toes. Is he doomed?

On paper, the movie might sound ‘meh.’ But, in adapting two novels by Manhattan judge Edwin Torres, David Koepp’s script achieves a melancholy, yet never maudlin, tone.   

De Palma understands Carlito’s Way is about the time we never get back, the way certain folks who live on the edge of society must answer for the regrettable choices they’ve made. The waste they’ve produced. As shot by cinematographer Stephen H. Burum, the film recreates the druggy, disco-laden mid-’70s in stunning detail (Jellybean Benitez was the music supervisor). De Palma heads will savor the assorted set-pieces (including a pool-hall massacre and a chase through Grand Central Station). But the De Palma of Hi, Mom! and Dressed to Kill—the darkly satiric cut-up who used genre platforms to turn trash into something approaching witty, high-low art—is absent. Carlito’s Way is a sad, albeit semi-exciting, street opera. It’s an old man’s film, a character study made with flair but restraint by a master director at the top of his game. It might be his last great movie.  

And it has Pacino’s last truly outstanding performance. (Yes, he’s good in 1995’s Heat.) As Carlito, he does little scene-chewing (there are those who claim he mauls a Puerto Rican accent here… I don’t notice), instead allowing his face, his physicality, to take charge on conveying the tired spirit of a guy who knows he’s caught in a trap of his own device but hopes to transcend.

Carlito’s Way might just break your heart. 

Arrow Video’s 2-disc 4K UHD set of the film is a fine tribute to a movie that seems to get better with each viewing. The high-def image is grand. Among the features on both the 4K disc and the Blu-ray disc are new audio commentary by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz and author Dr. Douglas Keesey; a new interview with Torres; a discussion between the film’s editors, Bill Pankow and Kristina Boden; an appreciation by film critic David Edelstein; a look at the New York locations used in the film; an archival interview with De Palma; an archival documentary on the making of the film; the original promotional featurette; an image gallery; and deleted scenes.

Arrow’s packaging continues to impress, too. The set comes with a reversible sleeve that features original and newly commissioned artwork, and a double-sided fold-out poster with newly commissioned artwork. You also get seven double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions and an illustrated collector’s booklet that features new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw and original production notes. I give the Arrow set all the stars.          

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Jack Cormack

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