A movie starring one of my favourite actors of the 70s. A movie made by one of the most interesting directors of the 80s. A movie with the kind of crime storyline that usually has my interest immediately. This movie had a lot of reasons for me to have seen it long before now, but somehow, it had evaded me. Maybe the bearded Pacino on the poster always made me assume it was Serpico. Whatever the reasons, before watching it, I had no idea what to expect from Carlito’s Way.
Al Pacino is Carlito, and ex New York heroin kingpin who just got out of a 35 year jail sentence after only five years, thanks to his lawyer, Kleinfeld, an almost unrecognisable Sean Penn underneath an awesome jewfro. Once free, Carltio swears he’s on the straight and narrow. He just needs to make $75,000 so he can buy into a car rental business in Miami and leave the criminal world forever. Which is good, because in movies, every time a con, or ex-con, decides to go on the straight and narrow after one last job, they always get to live happily ever after.
But like Pacino’s more famous criminal trying to go straight in The Godfather Part III, every time Carlito thinks he’s out, they drag him back in. Buying into what should be a straight business and running a nightclub, he’s almost immediately surrounded by the people and the world he’s trying to avoid. But the worst influences aren’t the criminals and street hoods from his past, the worst influence is the increasingly manic and coked up Kleinfeld. But honor bound after his early release from prison, Carlito feels like he can never say no to any favour his lawyer asks, or sometimes begs.
The glass half full, happily ever after future of Carltio is represented by Gail (Penelope Ann Miller), a ballet dancer and his girlfriend until he cut her off while in the joint. Now back on the street, they pick up where things left off and she becomes his major motivation for getting out of New York and into his boring, but legit life, in Miami.
Pacino copped a bit of flack for his over the top Cuban accent in Scarface and I wonder if that made him a little gun shy for Carlito’s Way. Because while references are made quite often to the fact that he’s not playing an Italian-American in this movie, his accent slips into tough guy, mobster Italian quite often.
Carlito’s Way is no way one of the genre’s best, in no way one of Pacino’s best and in no way one of DePalma’s best. But it is still a pretty cool and more than serviceable street crime action / drama. The biggest and best surprise was Penn. He doesn’t normally go in for genre fare like this, and he doesn’t often do these big, over the top characters. So if for no other reason, it’s worth watching just to him to chew the scenery and act as big as he possibly can.