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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Carlito's Way (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Carlito's Way (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Universal // R // October 23, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Daniel Hirshleifer | posted December 10, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
In 1983, director Brian De Palma and actor Al Pacino teamed up to make one of the quintessential modern day gangster movies: Scarface. The story of the rise and fall of cocaine baron Tony Montana, Scarface was an indulgent but influential piece of work. Ten years later, the pair re-teamed for Carlito's Way, which at the time was unfairly maligned and criticized for being nothing but a cash-in on the previous picture's success. In truth, Carlito's Way is almost nothing like Scarface in its intent or its execution.

Carlito's Way opens with convicted felon Carlito Brigante, about to be released from prison on an appeal, pleading with the judge to believe that he has in fact learned his lesson and will go straight. The judge thinks otherwise, but can do nothing to stop Carlito's release. Once out, Carlito surprisingly stays true to his word. Instead of dealing with thugs and drugs, he becomes manager of a nightclub owned by an old associate and spends his time with old flame Gail (Penelope Ann Miller). He's got big plans to get out of New York and whisk Gail off to the Bahamas, but trouble comes from an unexpected source. Carlito's lawyer, Davey Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) finds himself in hot water with a mob boss, and convinces Carlito that, for the sake of their friendship, Carlito needs to help Davey out, no matter what the cost.

Carlito's Way is about as far removed from Scarface as you can get. While the 1983 magnum opus was flamboyant and unrestrained, Carlito's Way is understated and elegant. Al Pacino gives one of the last great performances of his career as Carlito. Reflective, thoughtful, and aware of his own actions, Carlito is the antithesis of Tony Montana. Pacino is riveting in this film not because of how much he does, but of how little. He downplays Carlito so much that the smallest motions take on much more importance. And the few times he does lash out are all the more effective for the contrast.

Sean Penn is almost unrecognizable as Carlito's lawyer, hiding behind a laughably large pair of glasses and perhaps the best jewfro in all of cinema. Sometimes Penn's acting chops are lost in the wake of his politics, but what we get in Carlito's Way is pure performance muscle, and he proves himself Pacino's equal. Penelope Ann Miller is no Michelle Pfeiffer (or Naomi Watts, who Penelope Ann Miller always reminds me of), but she plays her part with passion and is willing to get naked, which is always a plus. Keep an eye out for Luis Guzman, John Leguizamo, and Viggo Mortensen (who is the butt of a very funny sight gag).

Of course, half the fun is watching Brian De Palma at work. Like Pacino, he plays things more subdued this time around, content to let many scenes unfold naturally. A great example of this is a sequence where Carlito watches Gail dance at a club, and a drunk Davey screams obscenities. De Palma doesn't indulge in theatrics, instead he lets the actors do what they do best (or not in the case of Penelope Ann Miller's dancing). But being the director he is, he can't resist the urge for some spectacular set pieces, including a bar fight that bristles with suspense, and an escalator sequence that's bloody as hell.

If there's any problem with Carlito's Way, it's a feeling that we've seen this all before. And not just in Scarface. How many times have we seen characters in crime movies fall for the "just one more job" routine? How many times have we seen people make desperate mad plans to escape their plight, only to have it shot down within running distance from their objective? As grandiose as Scarface may have been, at least it felt like a fresh take on such material. Carlito's Way doesn't distinguish itself from the pack. But don't get me wrong, genre and De Palma fans owe it to themselves to see this movie, if only to discover how effective a little restraint can be.


The Image:
Universal presents Carlito's Way in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in a 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer. I've seen far more recent movies than this look a lot worse. Universal's track record for catalog titles is notorious, but Carlito's Way looks fantastic. The first thing you'll notice is the clarity. Details unnoticeable before suddenly become easy to spot. The colors are bright and solid, without any instance of bleeding. Flesh tones in particular look especially well balanced. Dark and shadowy scenes present no problem, with plenty of definition. I only noticed compression artifacts once, in the background of the nightclub where Carlito and Davey go after Carlito is released. Other than that, this is a transfer any de Palma fan will want to see firsthand.

The Audio:
Universal offers both Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 and lossless Dolby True HD 5.1 mixes on Carlito's Way. The two mixes don't sound terribly different, but both offer a nice range of fidelity. Carlito's Way doesn't have the most active soundtrack you'll ever see. There isn't much action, aside from the aforementioned set pieces. However, dialogue is presented crisply and is never drown out by the music or the effects. While there aren't very many discrete sounds, the track does have a fullness to it that will subtly satisfy.

The Supplements:
Universal ports over all of the special features from the last DVD release. However, they are spartan and none are in high definition.

  • Brian De Palma on Carlito's Way: Brian De Palma spends more time talking complaining than anything else in this five minute interview clip. Bizarrely, he lashes out at filmmakers who use other films as reference points. Considering the man has spent his entire career emulating Hitchcock, it's a surprising statement for him to make. Overall, De Palma seems more bitter than anything else.
  • Making Of: This half-hour featurette is mostly interviews. However, it does present a nice overview of the project, from the original script onwards. Notably absent is Al Pacino.
  • Deleted Scenes: Eight minutes of cut scenes, most of them obvious as to why they ended up on the cutting room floor.
  • Promo Featurette: Taken from the set of the movie, this is your standard EPK, with all the fluff you can handle.
  • Photo and Poster Gallery.
  • Trailer.

The Conclusion:
While Carlito's Way might not be Brian De Palma's best film, it's certainly his most reflective. It's worth seeing for Pacino and Penn's performances alone. This HD DVD offers a noticeable upgrade in picture and sound for the DVD, but sadly no new features have been made for it. Still, the presentation is worth checking out. Recommended.

Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.

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