A gritty crime drama from director Brian De Palma that's lead by a powerful performance from Al Pacino, "Carlito's Way" stars Pacino as Carlito Brigante, a drug dealer in the 70's who gets shot in the opening sequence. As he gets taken away to the hospital, we learn what happened up until that point - things begin with lawyer David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) getting his friend Carlito released from jail with a smartly played trial where Carlito tells the judge that he'll stay clean.
Carlito returns to his old neighborhood, carrying a dream to gather $75,000 to start a new business in the Bahamas. He gets set up with a nightclub gig, but he quickly finds out that the streets are much different, with only new kids running the show. They know Carlito's reputation, and it's not long before he's drawn back in again.
He goes to seek out his ex-girlfriend, Gail (Penelope Ann Miller who is now making a living as a stripper. Happy to have some sort of connection in a world he no longer knows, he tries to get her back. Kleinfeld pressures Carlito into a gig that he doesn't feel right about, and when things go wrong, Carlito finds himself in deeper trouble.
The film's high notes are its performances, as Pacino and an unrecognizable Sean Penn are fantastic. Pacino makes Carlito into a complex, compelling and fully realized character whose struggle to stay clean is believably portrayed by the actor. Penn's effort is also quite impressive, as well. Good supporting efforts include Viggo Mortensen, Luis Guzman, James Rebhorn and others.
The film's only really noticable fault is that it's considerably overlong at nearly 150 minutes. At around two hours lat, the movie's pacing could have been quite a bit tighter. The movie has a few sharply filmed, intense main sequences and stretches where the film really is effective. The excess moments drain some of the energy from the movie, but they don't work against the overall movie too much.
Overall, while "Carlito" isn't Brian De Palma's finest effort, it's still a solid piece of work from the director, with a couple of stellar lead performances.
VIDEO: This new release once again presents the film in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (the Collector's Edition was also anamorphic, but the original release was not.) The presentation is mostly excellent, although there are some minor issues briefly spotted. Sharpness and detail are solid, despite the fact that the movie is rather dark/dimly-lit in many scenes.
Some minor traces of pixelation show up in a couple of scenes, as does some very slight edge enhancement. However, these issues are pretty minor and don't cause distraction. On a positive note, the print is in very good condition, with only a few marks and a speck or two visible throughout. Colors appear rich and well-saturated, with no smearing or other concerns. Overall, a very fine effort.
SOUND: "Carlito's Way" is presented here in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. The presentation is pretty terrific, with a respectable amount of surround use for music reinforcement (especially in the club scenes) and occasional sound effects. Audio quality is excellent, with well-recorded effects and score, and clear, natural dialogue. The DTS presentation seemed a bit crisper and richer; while not vastly different, the DTS presentation did offer improvements in some areas over the Dolby Digital edition.
EXTRAS: The previous Collector's Edition only offered a couple of supplements. This edition doesn't offer a wealth of extras, either, unfortunately, but what is offered is decent. "Brian De Palma On: Carlito's Way" is a short piece that runs a little over five minutes. In the featurette, De Palma gives a very general overview of his thoughts on a couple of aspects of the film, as well as his take on critics and film today. It's a decent piece, but I was hoping for more insights than just this 5 minute take.
Much better is a 34-minute "making of" documentary that opens with writer David Koepp and novelist Edwin Torres discussing their experiences writing and adapting the novel into a screenplay. De Palma also addresses his feelings on what attracted him to the project and talks about production issues such as casting.
Also included are a photo/poster gallery, the original production promo featurette, the theatrical trailer and 8 minutes of rather rough looking deleted scenes. These features aren't bad, but they still fall short of what one considers an "Ultimate Edition" - a commentary would have been quite nice, for example.
Final Thoughts: "Carlito's Way" isn't without some flaws, but the picture is otherwise a well-acted, intense drama that holds up well. Universal's Ultimate Edition DVD provides fine video quality and very good audio. The extras section isn't bad, but still comes up less than what the film deserves. Recommended.