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New York, 1975. Convicted dope dealer Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) escapes after serving five years of a 30 year jail term through a loophole loosened by his smarmy lawyer Dave Kleinfeld (Sean Penn). Carlito vows to go straight, hoping to raise enough money to open a car rental business in the Bahamas. He re-connects with his pre-prison girlfriend Gail (Penelope Ann Miller) and it seems they have a future but Carlito runs the risk of dashing his hopes and dreams when Dave calls in a favour. A client that Kleinfeld may have ripped off while he was in prison wants the lawyer to bust him out of there, but if he succeeds or fails Kleinfeld suspects that he might be a dead man. And he could bury Carlito with him.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
When Carlito "Charlie" Brigante is released from prison after serving just five years of a 30 year sentence (it's proved that a desperate District Attorney had illegally wire-tapped him to force a conviction), he is a changed man. The "reputed assassin and convicted purveyor of narcotics" has had five years to assess the mess he has made of his life and is now determined to "stay clean."

Everyone snickers when this "born again" hood pledges atonement, including Kleinfeld, the coke-snorting shyster lawyer who had saved Charlie's bacon; Gail, the girl the gangster left behind; even the chastened but unrepentant D.A. Norwalk (James Rebhorn) who growls when Brigante is set free: "I'll be seeing you again; sometime soon." It seems that Charlie is deluding himself...he wants to dive back into the sea and be like all the other little fishes but he forgets that at the El Paraiso nightclub, where he works to help fund his Caribbean dreams, he still swims with the sharks. They all want a piece of him: Benny Blanco (John Leguizamo) is the new punk on the block who aches to take yesterday's man down a peg or two; the humiliated Norwalk so covets a taste for vengeance that it festers like venom in his heart and when Kleinfeld calls in a favour, Charlie knows that favours can "kill you faster than a bullet."

Having lived a life of crime, Carlito finds himself trapped in the same whirlpool and inevitably the past catches up with him. His story is told by the man himself as he lies stuck to a gurney in glue of his own blood as he is raced to a hospital emergency ward. He dreams of the paradise he promised himself and the pregnant Gail and laments the mistakes that riddled his hopes full of holes.

Carlito's Way is vintage De Palma. The third and most compelling of his gangster trilogy, succeeds by avoiding the excesses of Scarface (1983) and The Untouchables (1987) and it's doubtful if he's made a better film, before or since. He stages a dazzling set piece, an orgy of celebration at Kleinfeld's mansion on the sunny banks of New York's East River, where mounds of cocaine, the size of ice-cream scoops are served. But the director must have been disappointed when the bombing of the now iconic World Trade Center in 1993 prevented him from filming his climactic shootout there; and so he returns to a train station for a nail-biting finale that surpasses the Eisenstein rip-off that ended The Untouchables. Likewise, Carlito Brigante belongs in the pantheon of Pacino's finest performances...you can read Brigante's whole sorry history in those liquid eyes which only soften for Gail; every pause is timed for maximum impact and some of those are lethal.

There isn't a weak performance and not a line of the tough-talking dialogue seems out of place. He infuriates Benny at the club by feigning not to remember the big-spending sleazebag. "Maybe I don't give a shit," Carlito taunts, "maybe I don't remember the last time I blew my nose either!" For Christmas, Universal are releasing Carlito's Way in a boxed set with its inferior 2005 prequel...but this timeless original is available separately.

Published December 26, 2005

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(US, 1993)

CAST: Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller

DIRECTOR: Brian De Palma

SCRIPT: David Koepp (adapted from the novel After Hours by Edwin Torres)

RUNNING TIME: 138 minutes

PRESENTATION: 2.35:1 Anamorphic widescreen. 5.1 Surround /dts. Languages:[BREAK]English, Hebrew, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Russian, Swedish and Danish.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The Making Of feature; photo gallery and trailer


DVD RELEASE: December 7, 2005

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