Carlito's Way is one of the many gangster-related films directed by Brian De Palma. It was based on a novel of the same name written by Edwin Torres, which was converted into a screenplay by David Koepp. While the film didn't capture the same success of Scarface or The Untouchables, it still had a respectable box office run.
The film begins in the 1970s with Carlito Brigante being released from a stint in prison for selling heroin. He is released because the district attorney used illegal wiretapping to gather enough evidence to prosecute and goes out for a night on the town with his lawyer to celebrate. We learn that he wants to move to the Bahamas and start a car rental service for tourists, but he needs to get some money together in order to do it.
He immediately buys into a local night club, whose owner is caught in a large amount of gambling debt. He manages the club in exchange for a stipend of the profits, which he saves up in a safe for his planned departure to the Bahamas. He also manages to find his old flame from before he was locked up, Gail, who is now an exotic dancer. The two reunite and Gail provides further encouragement for him to stay clean.
Unfortunately, Carlito's sleazy lawyer, David Kleinfeld, is getting himself into some major trouble. After ripping off a crime family leader of a million dollars, he is ordered to help break the man out of jail or die. Carlito feels compelled to help his lawyer after David helped him get out of prison and soon finds himself in over his head.
Carlito Brigante, the main character, is played by Al Pacino in one of his most memorable roles. Sean Penn plays Carlito's cokehead lawyer, David Kleinfeld, and Carlito's love interest, Gail, is played by Penelope Ann Miller. Other important actors include Benny Blanco, played by John Lequizamo, Pachanga, played by Luis Guzman, and Steffie, played by Ingrid Rogers.
Al Pacino's performance in this film is really what makes it what it is. As usual, Pacino shows true emotion and I began to really feel sympathy for him by the end of the film. Sean Penn does a great job as the cracked out lawyer, and really starts to become the villain of the film. Penelope Ann Miler's performance was also very heartfelt and I was quite impressed. Viggo Mortensen even makes a remarkable cameo in the film as an old friend of Carlito's who is confined to a wheelchair.
The entire film takes place in New York City, primarily the Brooklyn and Manhattan areas. The night club is a great set, and it is styled to appear like a ship on the inside. Many scenes take place inside the subway station, much like the Untouchables, only in this case it is much more drawn out and suspenseful.
I felt that the plot of this film was very meaningful. All Carlito wanted to do was stay clean and get a his business going on the Bahamas, but he finds himself having to associate with others that draw him back into crime. I think it shows that criminals can be redeemed, but even if they want to stay clean, they may find it impossible to do so.
Overall, I found the entire movie to be a masterpiece. It lacks a lot of the commercialism that I loathed in Untouchables, replacing it instead with true emotion and drama. I would highly recommend this film to anyone.