HD DVD Title: Carlito’s Way
Screen format: 1080P, 2.35:1, VC-1 Encoded, High definition
First theatrical release:
Previous releases on other media: Multiple DVD releases including Fullscreen and Anamorphic Widescreen
Director: Brian DePalma
Starring: Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Anne Miller, Luis Guzman, John Leguizamo
Sound Formats: English Dolby True HD 5.1; English & French DD Plus 5.1
Length: 2 hours 25 Minutes
Subtitles: English & French
Maverick director Brian DePalma and top actor Al Pacino reunited (after Scarface from 10 years earlier) in making Carlito’s Way. Originally told as two novels by Judge Edwin Torres, CW leans more heavily on the plot from the second, “After Hours”. Going in to watch this film I was expecting essentially a ‘Scarface with Puerto Ricans instead of Cubans’ and I was relieved to find that the films retain a lot of the same epic feel and human touches that DePalma is known for, but otherwise they are solidly different.
Puerto Rican gangster Carlito “Charlie” Brigante (Pacino) is sprung from his 30 year sentence by his best friend and lawyer, David Klienfeld (Penn). Once out, Carlito does his best to mend his ways and turn straight, but everything in his environment conspires to bring him back into the middle of the life he led. His family gets him involved in a drug operation, he takes over as a night club manager for shady people, and even Klienfeld is mixed up on both sides of the law. The two things that keep Carlito going are his dream of retiring and renting cars in paradise and his rekindled affair with dancer Gail (Miller). Despite all of the dangers and traps left in front of him, Carlito only knows one way of acting and one way of being, and to that end he must stay true, no matter the consequences.
As noted above, Carlio’s Way surprised me in many ways. First, it is unexpectedly a solid “Noir” film while still retaining all of the trappings of a gangster movie. Also, the cast of characters is as deep as any film has a right to be, from the flamboyant up and comer Benny Blanco From the Bronx (Leguizamo) to henchman Pachanga (Guzman) down to bit parts played by Viggo Mortensen (Lalin) and James Rebhorn (District Attorney Norwalk). Finally, the locations and extended sequences in and around New York are flawlessly compelling, from an early shoot out in Harlem to the extended sequence at the end which takes place in Grand Central, there is emotion and excitement in every scene.
Carlito’s Way feels so much more like a grand 40s epic than a 90’s film. Pacino was the driving force behind this film getting made, and while he isn’t as convincing a Puerto Rican as he was as a Cuban or Italian, his heart was clearly in this role. He brings a sense of grace and respect to a world inhabited by people we wouldn’t ordinarily like or trust, and that holds the film together.
Sound Quality: 4/5
For a 1993 era drama Carlito’s Way has a surprisingly dynamic sound field, with both music and effects often reaching all around the listening positions. This HD DVD features a Dolby True HD track, which was the only one I sampled, and I have very few complaints, with one exception, that being the very limited amount of bass content. Other than that it is very solid all around, with Patrick Doyle’s sweeping orchestral contributions well integrated in with a selection of hit musical tracks including “Rock the boat”, “Oye Como Va”, “Backstabbers”, Disco hit “The Sounds of Philadelphia”, and ending with Billy Preston’s “You are so beautiful”.
Voice content is well preserved, tho Pacino’s mangling of a Puerto Rican accent doesn’t hold a candle to Guzman’s rapid fire slang. Penn’s jewish attorney however is incredible and he is almost unrecognizable in voice as well as his look. I did a double take the first time I heard it, as it’s clear that one of the characters from Grand Theft Auto is a total ripoff of Kleinfeld and I never knew of the character before.
It would be a good tossup to find out which is more prevalent in the film, gunfire or cursing. I’m told that the F word is used 193 times by Carlito, I’d bet that’s close to the number of bullets used! Gunfire is handled moderately well soundwise, tho again I was hoping for a little more bottom end on it, it sounded just a bit hollow but this may have also been a hook back to the whole 40s vibe that the film was trying to go for.
Visual Quality: 4/5
There is also comparatively little to complain about on the video side. While Carlito’s Way does not go out of its way to highlight beauty, this is a film about the underside of the dark corners of NYC and has many scenes at night, there are some segments where color just explodes such as on the streets of NYC and in Carlito’s Club. Despite being a heavily dark film, noise and grain were well controlled and never distracting, and the deep pools of black surrounding the characters serve as a highlight of what is important in each scene. I did notice a few pops and scratches but these were few and far between, and there were no other visible issues such as edge enhancement or other artifacts. I was pleased with the sharpness of the film, especially in regards to facial close-ups as the distinctive mannerisms of each of the actors helped to ground the characters and make them more human than their larger than life roles would suggest.
Extra Features: 3.5/5
Since I enjoyed the film I was really glad to get a good look at behind the scenes content and what is present here provides a good rundown on the history of getting the film made and some great insight directly from DePalma, but with comparatively little to add from any of the major actors which is a bit disappointing. DePalma is the main focus on one featurette, which gives soundbites from him regarding many of the issues the film faced. There is an extensive ‘Making of’ featurette which again details a lot of the production groundwork but gives little face time from either Penn or Pacino. It would have been fascinating to hear from Penn about his creation of Kleinfeld and that is pretty much unexplored. Additionally there is a lengthy reel of deleted scenes, a collection of on set photographs, and the theatrical trailer. It was just enough to round out the film for me, but if there is ever a version with more content I’ll be looking for it for sure.
Overall: 4/5 Recommended! (not an average)
I enjoyed Carlito’s Way a lot more than I thought I would. As a film it doesn’t reach the heights that The Godfather, Goodfellas or even Scarface reached for me, but I can see it holding it’s own in those film’s company. This disk presents the movie very well, with a solid soundtrack that uses top of the line audio encoding and a video transfer that is pleasing and very sharp. Add in the nice little pack of extras and this is a moderately compelling disk overall, and I can easily place it in the Recommended category.