Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: David Koep
Starring: Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, John Leguizamo, Luis Guzmán
Country: United States
Running Time: 144 minutes
Year: 1993
BBFC Certificate: 18

The crime thriller genre had a strong resurgence in the 1990s, and a varied one too. Martin Scorcese re-wrote the classical rulebook with Goodfellas and Casino, while Quentin Tarantino and Michael Mann tore it up altogether. Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way was stubbornly old-fashioned in comparison and maybe that’s why it met with a lukewarm reception, but it’s De Palma’s last, truly great work and its reputation is unfair. Arrow’s excellent and faithful UHD release gives us a welcome opportunity for re-appraisal.

“Just when I thought I was out”… no, that’s another Pacino story about a career criminal trying to go straight, but Carlito’s Way is based on two books by Judge Edwin Torres that predate Coppola’s much maligned Godfather III. Comparing Carlito’s Way with a slew of gangster movies is to be expected, especially considering its heritage, but this tightly wound crime thriller is a Noir, and a damn good one at that. De Palma’s style is resolutely 1970s working with a screenplay whose heart is in the 1950s. Typical of the director, it’s a film that fights for attention from the audacious opening, split-diopter shots and intricate set-pieces, including one back in Grand Central Station where De Palma had already staged a key sequence in The Untouchables. I’ll die on this hill: that was an action thriller about tax avoidance and the first true comic book movie, but while his most potent work was already behind him, he still wrings potential from every scene of Carlito’s Way.

De Palma as always is helped by a fantastic cast. It’s a perfect role for Al Pacino; at the time there was talk of him being overshadowed by an oily Sean Penn, but I’ve never agreed. Penn is fantastic, and enough so not to steal scenes, as he’s supposed to be the one pulling in the opposite direction. Carlito is a victim of circumstance, trying to stay quiet, but it’s Pacino and he’s on fire. The dialogue sings and he demands sympathy.

Despite the strictly choreographed direction, it’s a loose freewheeling Grand Theft Auto narrative with a tragic sentimental streak more akin to Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America. Or even Casablanca. Really, just compare Carlito with Rick, who gets name-checked. Nevertheless, Gail (Penelope Ann Miller) is almost a fantasy figure; women are ill served, an occasional weakness of De Palma’s oeuvre.

The film is a mongrel that lives and dies in De Palma’s ambitions. The old fashioned style, call backs to Noir, heartfelt sentiment, all conspire to render Carlito’s Way a uniquely successful crime film, but maybe it was dated before it was released. By the end of the decade Curtis Hanson’s self-aware postmodern L.A. Confidential would both define and celebrate the genre in ways De Palma’s last great film couldn’t. Still, it was made on his terms and remains sharp.


The best UHD remasters compliment the original aesthetics of the film, unlocking photography DVD and Blu-Ray couldn’t appreciate. Carlito’s Way is no exception. While not reference quality, it’s a bold transfer that is pristine compared with the Blu-ray. It’s a gorgeous looking film that breathes with De Palma’s fine cinematography, a Noir that favours shadows and deep contrasts, rather than the blistering colours of Scarface, but the more restrained palette here is fabulously rendered.

During an early bar scene, there is an obvious lens flare that might have been considered a fault. It is visible on the original Blu-Ray too, just not quite so much.


The audio is not demanding attention and, while still typically bombastic for De Palma in moments, it’s maybe a softer approach to represent the tragedy of the lead character. The presentation is even throughout, with dialogue always clear and music wide and epic. Explosions of violence are sudden but faithful.


The extra features are a mix of original content from previous releases, with a couple of new pieces. David Edelstein’s video on De Palma is excellent and enthusiastic without fawning, whereas Dr. Douglas Keesey’s select scene commentary is interesting but a little staid and occasionally defensive, such as when concerning the director’s thinly sketched women.

  • Audio Commentary with Matt Zoller Seitz
  • Select Scene Audio Commentary with Dr. Douglas Keesey
  • Carlito and the Judge: interview with author Judge Edwin Torres
  • Cutting Carlito’s Way: interview with editors Bill Pankow and Kristina Boden
  • De Palma on Carlito’s Way
  • De Palma’s Way – David Edelstein
  • All The Stitches In The World: Locations of Carlito’s Way
  • The making of Carlito’s Way
  • Deleted scenes
  • Original Promotional Materials
  • Trailers
  • Image Gallery
Carlito's Way UHD
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