Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Carlito's Way

Based on the novels by Edwin Torres that includes After Hours, Carlito’s Way is the story of a former gangster who tries to go straight following a stint in prison as he finds himself being dragged into the world of crime thanks to his deceitful lawyer. Directed by Brian de Palma and screenplay by David Koepp, the film is a character study of sorts of a man trying to start all over and do right for himself and the woman he loves as Al Pacino plays the role of Carlito Brigante. Also starring Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, Luis Guzman, John Leguizamo, Viggo Mortensen, and James Rebhorn. Carlito’s Way is a dazzling and riveting film from Brian de Palma.

Set in 1975 New York City, the film revolves around the life of former gangster Carlito Brigante who has just been released from prison in the hopes to start a new life without trouble but aspects of his criminal past come back to haunt him while he is torn in his love for a dancer and his loyalty to his deceitful lawyer. It’s a film that is essentially a character study of sorts where Brigante is eager do something new but he needs the money to get a head-start in going to the Bahamas where he hopes to live a quiet life and run a rental car service for tourists without any trouble. Yet, for all of Brigante’s dreams to come true where he would run a club and make the money that he needs. There are elements of his past that comes to haunt him as there are those that see him as this legendary figure who they want to learn from as well as those that want to see if he’s still in the game of dealing drugs and such. It adds to this conflict in the story where he wants to get out but he’s being pulled back into the dark world as some of it is actually his fault.

David Koepp’s screenplay doesn’t just create a unique structure to the story as well as the fact that it begins and ends with a wounded Brigante on a stretcher in Grand Central Station. He also brings in this noir-style narrative that is largely told from Brigante’s perspective with some voice-over narration that plays into a man struggling with his conscience as well as his attempts to go straight. The dialogue is quite stylish where it does have elements of the film noir language but updated for a more contemporary setting in the 1970s where the Brigante character would find himself in awful situations but tries to restrain himself from not going too far as he knows he might go back to prison. Even as he tries to disassociate himself with old friends in the world of crime as well as new gangsters trying to make a name for themselves like Benny Blanco from the Bronx (John Leguizamo) who is really a younger version of Brigante.

Koepp’s script also play into how seriously flawed Brigante is where his intentions go straight are valid but he is someone that unfortunately trusts the wrong people like Kleinfeld who has put himself into a dangerous world of crime. Kleinfeld’s increasing usage of cocaine and paranoid behavior would trouble Brigante but also has him wanting to help as if he feels like he owes him for getting him out of prison. To Brigante’s former flame Gail (Penelope Ann Miller), she is the first person to see Kleinfeld for who he really is as she is aware of the flaws in Brigante while questioning if everything he is saying about going straight is true as she had seen a lot which adds to her own struggle between cynicism and optimism. Even as there are smaller characters in the film that tell Brigante about the people he’s surrounding himself by as it adds to those flaws which do come to ahead in a key sequence where Brigante finally sees what Kleinfeld is up to all along. Notably as it involves Brigante being used as bait for the justice system which would lead to this thrilling climax over Brigante dealing with Kleinfeld’s actions.

Brian de Palma’s direction is quite stylish for the way he creates these intricate yet mesmerizing tracking shots but also use them to create a sense of atmosphere into the many locations and settings he is in. Shot on location in New York City and some of its landmarks including Grand Central Station for its climax, the film does play into a period where it was very vibrant and exciting but also a world that Brigante has a hard time understanding as well as the fact that the rules are very different as something like ethics are considered dead. The usage of wide and medium shots do help play into aspects of the location including an eerie moment early in the film where Brigante stops at a pool hall for a cousin of his which goes horribly wrong as it is this unsettling moment of the new world that Brigante had unfortunately created. It’s among these moments where de Palma maintains that air of suspense and the unknown where it adds to what Brigante is trying to run away from. The compositions that de Palma creates in the way he would frame his actors into a conversation or have some unique attention to detail in the background while there is someone else in the foreground is among the key visual elements that is used in the film.

Along with some stylish Dutch angles and these mesmerizing tracking shots that manages to capture the vibrancy of the clubs and places Brigante and Gail to go. The direction also has de Palma create moments that are lively with elements of humor but also these unsettling moments such as a sequence where Brigante and Kleinfeld are on a boat is where the former sees the latter for what he’s really done. It is followed by a scene afterwards where it is presented with such simplicity but it also shows exactly where Brigante is and the fact that he knows he is completely fucked by the man who got him out of jail. All of which would lead to these violent and intense moments in the film’s climax where it is quite operatic but also play into what is at stake. Overall, de Palma crafts an exhilarating and rapturous film about a gangster’s attempt to find redemption and a new life away from crime.

Cinematographer Stephen H. Burum does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography with the usage of colored lights for many of the scenes at the dance clubs as well as some low-key lighting for some of the interiors including the pool hall sequence and natural exterior lighting for scenes in the day. Editors Kristina Boden and Bill Pankow do amazing work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts, dissolves, and a few stylish cuts for some of the light-hearted and dramatic moments while knowing when not to cut in some of the intricate tracking shots to get a sense of the atmosphere in the film. Production designer Richard Sylbert, with set decorator Leslie A. Pope and art director Gregory Bolton, does fantastic work with the sets that are created from the pool hall, the dance club that Brigante would run, Kleinfeld‘s office, and some of the other places the characters would go to. Costume designer Aude Bronson-Howard does excellent work with the costumes that play into the world of the 1970s from the suits that Brigante wears to the stylish dresses that the women wear at the clubs. Key hair stylist Michael Kriston and key makeup artist Michael Laudati do terrific work with the look of some of the characters including Kleinfeld with his Jew-fro and the look of the hair in some of men in those times.

Sound editor Maurice Schell do superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the clubs and some of the wild moments in the film plus some of the tense moments in the film such as Brigante‘s meeting with the D.A. The film’s music by Patrick Doyle is phenomenal for its orchestral-based score that play into the drama and suspense with its lush string arrangements that manage to do so much to elevate a scene. Music supervisor Jellybean Benitez create an incredible soundtrack that largely features music from the mid-1970s from the disco music of George McCrae, KC & the Sunshine Band, the Bee Gees, the O’ Jays, Cheryl Lynn, and Hot Chocolate to the salsa music of Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Santana, and the Fania All-Stars as well as a poignant usage of Joe Cocker’s You Are So Beautiful.

The casting by Bonnie Timmerman is remarkable as it features a tremendous ensemble that include some notable small roles from filmmaker Paul Mazursky as Brigante’s appeal judge, Angel Salazar and Al Israel as a couple of old friends of Brigante from Spanish Harlem, John Augstin Ortiz as Brigante’s cousin Guarjio, Rick Aviles as a small-time hood Brigante meets early in the film, Ingrid Rogers as a club regular that Kleinfeld goes out with in Steffi, Joseph Siravo and Adrian Pasdar as the sons of a crime boss Kleinfeld is working for, Frank Minucci as the boss Tony T Taglialucci whom Kleinfeld is working for, and the legendary Argentine comedy host Jorge Porcel as a disco/salsa club owner named Saso aka Ron whom Brigante would help out with his debts. James Rebhorn is superb as the district attorney Bill Norwalk who is trying to see if Brigante is up to no good while having his own suspicions about Kleinfeld.

Viggo Mortensen is fantastic as an old friend of Brigante in Lalin as a once top-crime figure who has become down on his luck as he is now on a wheelchair as a person that is being forced to do something bad to Brigante. Luis Guzman is excellent as Pachanga as an old friend of Brigante who works for him as a bodyguard as he is a man that does a lot of things yet is taken aback a bit by Brigante’s own ideals and disdain for his criminal past. John Leguizamo is amazing as Benny Blanco from the Bronx as a young hood who reminds Brigante as a younger version of himself who is eager to earn from Brigante yet is forceful and cunning where Leguizamo manages to be a scene-stealer in the moments he’s in. Penelope Ann Miller is brilliant as Gail as a dancer who was once Brigante’s flame as she is reluctant to be around him yet is someone looking for a change in her own life where she struggles with wanting to chase a dream but contend with the harsh realities of the world.

Sean Penn is sensational as Dave Kleinfeld as a young attorney who gets Brigante out and helps him in finding a club to run yet is someone that is troubled and doing awful things behind the scenes where Penn brings a manic and dangerous approach to his role that has bits of dark humor as it is one of Penn’s finest roles. Finally, there’s Al Pacino in one of his iconic performances of his career as Carlito Brigante as a former criminal that is eager to turn straight and start a new life only for his past activities and flaws in trusting the wrong kind of people come back to haunt him. It’s a role that has Pacino bring in a mixture of accents that play true to the streets while displaying a vulnerability in his role where he realizes he puts himself into a bad situation where he makes the character someone to root for as someone that can still be saved.

Carlito’s Way is a magnificent film from Brian de Palma that features a tremendous performance from Al Pacino. Along with strong supporting work from Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, Luis Guzman, and John Leguizamo as well as a strong script by David Koepp, dazzling visuals, and a killer soundtrack. The film isn’t just one of de Palma’s quintessential films in terms of its style and character study but it’s also a film that showcases a study of redemption as well as the struggle in letting go of a dark past. In the end, Carlito’s Way is a spectacular film from Brian de Palma.

Brian De Palma Films: (Murder a la Mod) - (Greetings) - (The Wedding Party) - (Dionysus in ‘69) - (Hi, Mom!) - (Get to Know Your Rabbit) - Sisters - Phantom of the Paradise - Obsession - Carrie - The Fury - (Home Movies) - Dressed to Kill - Blow Out - Scarface - Body Double - (Wise Guys) - The Untouchables - Casualties of War - The Bonfire of the Vanities - Raising Cain - Mission: Impossible - Snake Eyes - Mission to Mars - Femme Fatale - The Black Dahlia - (Redacted) - Passion (2012 film) - (Domino (2018 film))

© thevoid99 2016


Anonymous said...

I thought this was a good one...not great, but I did like many aspects of it, especially Penn.

Dell said...

I love this movie. One of the most amazing things to me is that even though it's a crime drama made by the same director and with the same star it feels vastly different from Scarface, yet is nearly as good. I like Pacino, but

Dell said...

Not sure what happened...stupid phone.

I was saying I like Pacino here, but wouldn't call it one of his iconic performances. It is one of his better movies, but he gets a bit overshadowed by his ridiculously good supporting cast. Penn, Guzman, and especially Leguizamo all killed it. Great call on the look and style of the film, too.

thevoid99 said...

@Fisti-For me, this is probably among my 5-10 favorite films by de Palma as I just love it to death and re-watching it has me looking into more on what is happening as I think Pacino was on fire with this film while Penn just killed it. I truly believe that it's one of the most underrated films of the past 30 years.

@Wendell-It is a very different film from Scarface yet both do share a few visual similarities while I think one of its strength was its ensemble. It maybe Al's movie but Penn, Guzman, and Leguizamo put in the kind of work that is just off the wall. Every time I hear about Guzman and this film, I think about an episode he did on Dinner for Five where he talked about being in the film. He had noticed that the production early on was a bit tense and when de Palma when to Guzman on a scene. Guzman said "Brian, I don't act. I just do it." de Palma then says "OK, everyone be on your mark. Luis is just gonna do it." After that, the filming became more relaxing as Guzman succeeded in making de Palma laugh. I just love those little stories.

keith71_98 said...

What a magnificent review. Yet another that I haven't seen in a long time. Been a while.

thevoid99 said...

@keith71_98-It was on TV and while I was planning to review it later this month, I just ended up watching it and had a blast. I fucking love the film as well as some of those moments like the scene where Penelope Ann Miller seduces Pacino while Joe Cocker was playing as Pacino breaks the door and they make out where Miller then says "now where's my cheesecake?" despite the fact that she had earlier said she didn't like cheesecake. I love those little touches.

Unknown said...

After BLOW OUT, this might well be my fave De Palma film. It is stylish and exudes confidence of a director at the top of his game. For what was supposedly a paycheck gig, Sean Penn is simply astounding, disappearing into the role of a sleazy lawyer. He plays so well off of Al Pacino who has never been better. Such a fantastic film on all levels.

thevoid99 said...

@J.D. Lafrance-This is one of Sean Penn's best roles as I'm sure the paycheck helped him in what he needed to fund one of films (before he became full of himself as of late). It is a great film that is starting to get a lot of love now.