This movie could have just ended after Al Pacino’s monologue in the courtroom opening, and it would have been perfect. Incredibly, it kept going for another 2 hours, and added even more filmmaking mastery with each passing minute.
I do not recall ever seeing a film make such consistent, immaculate use of extended, uncut tracking shots, following characters down hallways, capturing their movement throughout various rooms in a house or building, and framing their motions as they navigate their way through crowded nightclubs. The visions of Brian de Palma and Director of Photography Stephen H. Burum blended beautifully to create a magnificent visual language for this feature.
The story is a layered and nuanced mob drama, focusing specifically on one man’s struggles to put his past behind him and find his place in the present world. Sure, this is a story we have seen many times before, but the screenplay from David Koepp (based on the novel from Edwin Torres) is so richly engrossing and riveting, engaging and enthralling, emotional and identifiable, that we forget about any clichés or recycled plot points.
Of course, there are a handful of pacing inconsistencies and unnecessarily extended sequences, which probably falls at the feet of the editor; but these issues are easy enough to forgive, considering how the majority of the narrative is pieced together exquisitely, with only a few exceptions.
There’s nothing really new for me to say about Al Pacino; his name alone should be enough at this point to let you know the quality of his performance. The supporting cast including Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, John Leguizamo, and Luis Guzmán all contribute solid supplementary performances; and this is not even to mention a brief cameo from Viggo Mortensen, who blends so seamlessly into his vulnerable, broken role that you may not even recognize him.
“Carlito’s Way” is simply one of those films that unfortunately does not get made in the present age of franchise blockbusters and remakes/reboots. I watched this one in preparation for Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” which looks to be a swan song for the likes of Pacino, Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Scorsese himself, and perhaps the mob drama genre as a whole. Honestly, this is a pretty depressing reality. But hey, that’s how art works. Maybe a few decades down the line, we will have a revival in gangster flicks, led by imitators of these legends we have grown to know for 50 years now. Either way, I am thankful for the decades of content given to fans from filmmakers like de Palma, Scorsese, and Coppola. Let’s make it a point to appreciate what we have.