CARLITO S WAY

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Let me just preface this by saying that I love watching Sean Penn do coke. It is one of my favorite things in all of cinema. While he does about five times as much coke in Hurley Burely as he does in Carlito’s Way, Sean Penn doing coke is Sean Penn doing coke. Especially watching him dressed up as Kleinfeld, Carlito’s (Al Pacino) crooked, Jewish, gangster lawyer, is particularly satisfying. From the half-fro to the three-piece suits, Penn rules the screen. If it was my movie, it would have been Kleinfeld’s Way, where we just lock Penn and three Puerto Rican Strippers in a bathroom with two eight balls for a few hours. Can you say Oscar? Of course, I am no De Palma, so I will just go ahead and review Carlito’s Way.

As Casino is the sequel to Goodfellas, Carlito’s Way is the sequel to Scarface. Both are nowhere near as good as the originals, but are still infinitely watchable on their own strengths. Carilto’s Way reunites director Brian De Palma and star Al Pacino. Pacino is Carlito Brigante, a former big time heroin pusher from Spanish Harlem who just got twenty five years taken off of a thirty year sentence because Kleinfeld found out the DA used illegal wiretaps. In a typical beyond the realm of all possibility Pacino speech, Carlito explains to the judge and all present in the courthouse that he is cleaning up his act and going legit. He wants nothing more than to “rent cars” down in the Bahamas. His friends laugh but tell him to go for it. Of course his past catches up to him with tragic results, especially for Kleinfeld. The message seems to be that there is no escaping the street, no matter how hard you try or how good you look in a beard and a leather trench coat.

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The reason Carlito’s Way isn’t a more highly regarded movie is because Penelope Ann Miller is an awful actress. She plays Gail, Carlito’s stripper with a heart of gold ex-love and she is lousy. Everyone else in the movie, especially Penn and Luiz Guzman, is in top form. Miller looks as if she is still surprised she got the part. While her tits look great, I just could not buy the fact that a man as complex and refined (cool) as Carlito would fall madly in love with a plain-Jane simpleton like Miller portrayed Gail. I kept expecting Anthony Michael Hall to walk out start talking about homework. Still though, Miller did not ruin the movie. Luckily, Pacino is so strong an actor that he could carry the scenes that she was in. But old Al ain’t strong enough to cover for Miller when she talks. I watched Carlito’s Way with my friend and both of us were yelling, “You suck” whenever Miller was on screen. Towards the end Pacino and Miller have a scene in the back of a cab where they decide to flee New York and Gail confesses that she is pregnant. Watching the two of them exchange lines reminds me of an article I read in the Sunday Times where Sir Anthony Hopkins showed up at a Santa Monica junior college and stood in for a few scenes in Richard III.

The scenes without her, though, were great. Watching the give and take between Pacino and Penn is extra nice. Carlito is an old school crook. He’s seen it all, he knows the rules and the facts and that’s why he wants out. Kleinfeld is a rookie in every sense of the word. He overestimates not only his own importance, but his ability and his luck. Kleinfeld is very much a fish out of water. This little exchange takes place right after Kleinfeld admits to Carlito that he had in fact stolen a million dollars from Tony T., the man whose head Carlito just watched Kleinfled bash in.

Carlito: You ain’t a lawyer no more Dave. You a gangster now. You can’t learn it at school… you can’t have a late start.

In this one, Kleinfeld is trying to convince Carlito to go on the boat with him, much to Gail’s disapproval.

Kleinfeld: Fuck you and your self-righteous code of the goddamn streets. Did it pull you out of a 30 year stint in only 5 years? No, it didn’t, I did. Did it get you acquitted 4 fucking times? No, it didn’t, I did, so fuck you, fuck the streets, your whole goddamn world is this big, and there’s only one rule, you save your own ass!

I should mention that Kleinfeld was doing coke while Carlito was yelling at him. The hospital scene where Carlito steals Kleinfeld’s bullets after he found out the crooked lawyer tried to double-cross him is fucking inspired. Carlito either didn’t have the heart or couldn’t be bothered to kill Kleinfeld himself, but he made sure that his lawyer wasn’t going to live much longer.

A special Ruthless shout out to John Leguizamo who played Benny Blanco from the Bronx. He was only in the movie for about ten minutes, but his creepy presence was felt for the duration of Carlito’s Way. I am wondering why though, Pacino had a better Latino accent than Leguizamo? Also, why does a strong actor like Leguizamo do so many crap movies, like What’s The Worst That Can Happen? Wait, I said I was only wondering about one thing

To summarize, Carlito’s Way is great, but it ain’t Scarface. It is better than 75% of the movies out there, but it just never climbs all the way up. Blame Penelope Ann Miller, who cannot fucking act. For proof, look at how her career has diminished since she blew a producer and was allowed to star in Carlito’s Way. To be fair, Sean Penn earned his own circle of hell for his portrayal of Kleinfeld. The whole movie is beautifully shot and quite well made. Even Carlito’s incessant narration is OK, because some of the lines are really cool. I’m talking about stuff like “Don’t take me to no hospital, please. Fuckin’ emergency rooms don’t save nobody. Som-bitches, always pop you at midnight, when all they got is a Chinese intern with a dull spoon.” I like Carlito’s Way a whole bunch. I just don’t love it.

DVD Extras

Really piss poor. Luckily, the movie starts without tempting you to look at them. Apparently, Carlito’s Way is based off of two books written by a New York Judge. You had to read these pages on the screen for more details and hit the next button every thrity words. I didn’t care enough.


Ruthless Ratings:

  • Film, Overall: 7
  • DVD Extras: 1
  • Story: 6
  • Acting: 8, although Miller deserves a 2 and Penn a 10
  • Direction: 7

Special Ruthless Ratings:

  • Number of times movie was paused to do something else: I watched the damn thing straight through.
  • Number of times you found yourself enjoying the movie: Quite often. I really liked whenever Penn was on screen, but you already knew that.
  • Number of times you wished you had taken that screenwriting class: Didn’t even think about it.
  • Number of times the oppressive soundtrack made you reach for your knife: The music was nice. Real nice. A number of the shots took place in discos, but the music was always low.
  • Number of times you imagined the director snickering to them self: Not a once.
  • Number of times you thought about getting a leather trench coat: At least 40
  • Number of times you yelled at the TV what a bad actress Miller is: At least a dozen.
About Jonny Lieberman

Jonny was the site’s co-founder and helped carry the place in the early years. There was a falling out with Erich and he left the site for good, but a lot of his reviews live on. He has moved on to a successful career writing about cars. Look him up.