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Monday, April 12, 2021

Joseph Siravo, the actor who made his feature film debut as Vinnie Taglialucci in Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way, passed away Sunday after a long batle with cancer, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 66.

As Vinnie, the son of a mob boss seeking revenge for his father's murder, Siravo is a major part of one of De Palma's most extraordinary and memorable sequences: the subway chase which leads to an escalator shootoout at Grand Central Station.

"Better known to television audiences around the world for his turn as Tony Soprano's ruthless father on The Sopranos," Abid Rahman states in the Hollywood Reporter obituary, "Siravo built up an impressive list of Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theatres credits and became an integral part of the first national tour of the Tony- and Grammy-award-winning Jersey Boys, playing the part of Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo in over 2,000 performances."

Rahman continues:

Born in Washington D.C. on March 11, 1955, Sivaro attended Stanford University, where he performed for the Stanford Mendicants, an all-male a cappella group. He graduated from Stanford in 1977 with a BA and received his MFA from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts Theatre Program in 1980, where he trained under the guidance of Ron Van Lieu, Olympia Dukakis and Nora Dunfee.

Siravo first made his mark acting in theater. His notable Broadway credits include J. T. Rogers' Tony-award-winning play Oslo, Herb Gardner’s Conversations With My Father with Tony Shaloub and Judd Hirsch, the musical The Boys From Syracuse and Craig Lucas' musical The Light In the Piazza.

Off-Broadway he starred in Caryl Churchill's Mad Forest and Michael Develle Winn's Up Against The Wind and in the regional theater he starred in a number of Shakespeare productions including Hamlet, Anthony & Cleopatra and Othello.

In 2006, Siravo was part of the first national tour of the phenomenally successful musical Jersey Boys, based on the career and music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. He played Genovese family boss Gyp DeCarlo and stayed with the production until 2012, performing in 38 cities.

To a wider audience, Siravo will always be remembered as Johnny "Johnny Boy" Soprano from HBO's critically acclaimed mob drama The Sopranos. Siravo took on the role of DiMeo crime family capo and father of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). In the show, he appeared in flashback and dream sequences in five episodes, making his first appearance in "Down Neck," the seventh episode in season one with his final one in episode 15 of season six titled "Remember When."

Siravo's also starred in FX's Emmy award-winning drama The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, in which he gave a powerful performance as Fred Goldman, the father of the murdered Ron Goldman.

His other television credits include For Life, New Amsterdam, Blue Bloods, The Blacklist, Elementary, In Treatment, Made In Jersey, Dirty Sexy Money, Hack, Third Watch, Law & Order, Witness To The Mob and Cosby.

Siravo made his big-screen debut in Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way in 1993, in which he played Vinnie Taglialucci, the grieving son of a mob boss who seeks revenge on David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) and Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino). Although his focus was mainly on theater and television, Siravo's film credits include Maid in Manhattan, Shark Tale, playing John Gotti in The Wannabe and most recently The Report, Equity and Motherless Brooklyn.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Monday, January 11, 2021

Carlos Gonzalez posted pictures of his latest Waking The Dead Customs creations tonight on Instagram: two custom action figures from Carlito's Way - Carlito Brigante and David Kleinfeld. Both are for sale via DM to Gonzalez.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Monday, November 23, 2020

Lorenzo Senatore, the cinematographer for Rod Lurie's latest film, The Outpost (which, like the bulk of Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia, was shot in Bulgaria), began his career as a steadicam operator in Italy. The Outpost, "set at a military camp in Afghanistan completely surrounded by steep mountains," according to The Wrap's Joe McGovern, includes several long takes and sequences. Senatore recently talked to McGovern, who eventually asked Senatore about his favorite long shot:
Do you see a lot of potential in cinematography thanks to how lightweight cameras have become?
Well, in a sense. But I was influenced a lot on this film by things I saw many years ago in “Das Boot,” the Wolfgang Petersen submarine film. It was a huge inspiration for me as a DP. I was obsessed with knowing how they got the camera to go through the really small bulkhead doors in a submarine. They had built the submarine on a soundstage but they had built it with all the real dimensions. You can cheat all you want in movies, but they didn’t do it. So it was the camera operator who was running through these tiny doors, holding the camera by hand, not on the shoulder, kind of like a hybrid between handheld and Steadicam. It worked fantastically.

The cinematographer’s job is to light things, but there are a number of scenes in “The Outpost” that take place in near darkness.
It’s a natural instinct, for sure, to light scenes properly. If you’ve seen my previous work, you always have a clear sense of what’s going on, so I had to force myself a bit here. Rod was really pushing me for the darkness. We had a lot of real veterans on the location and even in the movie. They were all telling us that at night, they wouldn’t even start fires or shine lights. They would not go outside the barracks if there was a full moon. If it was total darkness, they only had little glow lights around their neck. We wanted to preserve that for the film, but it’s very challenging. Anyone who looks through their iPhone camera at night can understand that. So I did a lot of tests on the night lighting. And then after we finished shooting the night scenes, I still dropped the exposure down a bit in post-production.

The battle sequence is really 45 minutes of relentless combat. It’s not quite done in real time but it’s very visually consistent. How did you manage that?
It was an all-location shoot, obviously. Unfortunately, we had an accident in pre-production when one of the actors (Scott Eastwood) broke his ankle badly. But it meant that we got extra time to spend as production shifted back a bit. I did a lot of brainstorming – first splitting up the whole big puzzle of the battle, then assigning each piece to the best part of a day to shoot, and then reassembling it all. So one morning we would shoot the first part of a shot. But we’d save the second part of the same shot for the next morning, so we would have consistent light.

Were those long shooting days?
Well, we were shooting without lunch breaks. That’s actually a big plus for us in the camera department. You keep the momentum going. When everybody takes a break for an hour, by the time you get the machine going again, it’s already late afternoon and the lighting is completely different. It meant a lot that we were able to complete a sequence with the same look from beginning to end.

Also some of the shots in the ambush sequence are lengthy.
That was the other big advantage. We were shooting long shots and when you are doing that, it’s a big plus for continuity. You definitely dedicate more time in planning and rehearsing and choreographing the shot. But then when you start shooting, you get the result in this little window, after two of three takes. There was a period during the final sequence where we were shooting only two shots a day.

What’s your philosophy about long takes? Do you love the challenge or is it too much trouble?
It makes the job more complicated but I love it. My background is in Steadicam and long takes are part of the magic of Steadicam. Also, when I began working, I was doing a lot of longer Steadicam shots and that’s how I built my career. I would just be called in for a day, because it was extremely expensive 20 years ago to have a Steadicam on set all the time.

What’s your favorite long shot in movies?
I love Brian De Palma and the way he does them. Spielberg is a master as well. There is one in “Carlito’s Way,” Al Pacino is hiding from some guys in Grand Central Station in New York. That was done with Steadicam by a camera operator named Larry McConkey, who’s one of the legends in the movie business.

Do you still strap on the Steadicam?
From time to time. I didn’t on this movie because it was very physically demanding. I didn’t want the physicality of the operating to interfere with the goal we were going for. I had an incredible operator from Canada called Sasha Proctor, who was in much better physical shape than I was. I did it for 20 years, so I’ve got the scars on my back.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Saturday, April 25, 2020

As Al Pacino turns 80 today, several sites have been posting articles and rankings of the actor's roles. The most interesting of these is at The Independent, where Clarisse Loughrey looks at Pacino's "10 greatest films, from Scarface to Serpico" --
Michael Mann thinks of Al Pacino as like the greater painter Picasso, who creates his art through “a series of brushstrokes”. Take 1995’s Heat, which Mann himself directed, and the actor’s infamous delivery of the line: “She’s got a GREAT ASS!” It’s odd, ludicrous and entirely unexpected – just as Picasso would allow a sudden intrusion of colour or an eye to drop halfway down his subject’s face.

Pacino has always been a kind of jack-in-the-box actor. He stores a world-devouring rage deep behind those hungry, coal-black eyes, then turns the crank. Sometimes it explodes out of him; sometimes it’s left to vibrate beneath the surface. He’ll oscillate between the extremes of complete control and complete loss of control – ideas he can apply equally to the roles of criminal, lover, or addict.

A few of Pacino’s characters, such as Tony Montana and Michael Corleone, have become embedded in popular culture. His work is so visible that it’s strangely easy to ignore. He’s won an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony (known as the “Triple Crown of Acting”), but also has a history of being snubbed by his peers.

The Academy didn’t reward him for The Godfather, Serpico, or Dog Day Afternoon, but chucked him a conciliatory Oscar in 1993 for his aggressive “hoo-ah”-ing in Scent of a Woman. It’s also led to a tendency to focus on his blips – there’s no talking about Pacino now without bringing up the ironically cringeworthy (and also non-ironically cringeworthy) Dunkin’ Donuts rap he did in 2011’s Jack and Jill.

But the trajectory makes sense. So early on in his career did he perfect his craft (with an incredible run between 1971 and 1975) that he’s spent the following decades in desperate search of something new. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” wrote Robert Browning, in his poem “Andrea del Sarto”. Pacino has quoted it often. The lows have always been worth the highs.

He’s had his own mini-Renaissance of late, thanks to his work in The Irishman, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, and Hunters. It’s a formidable string of performances from an actor who turns 80 tomorrow (25 April), though he doesn’t intend to retire anytime soon. There will surely be more great performances to come.

Loughrey then goes on to rank Pacino's "best so far," beginning with Jerry Schatzberg's Scarecrow (1973) at number ten, and Pacino's role as top closer Ricky Roma in James Foley's film of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross at number nine. Then we get to the next three on her list:
8. Scarface (1983)

It’s a stark indictment of Hollywood’s diversity phobia that Pacino, an Italian-American, was cast by Brian De Palma as a Latinx immigrant not once, but twice (more on Carlito’s Way later). But the actor’s take on Tony Montana, a Miami drug dealer who climbs to the top and immediately loses the plot, is the stuff of legend. Cocaine flows through this man’s veins. His delusions have cemented into gilded kitsch. He thinks of a firearm as his “little friend”. Pacino delivers Tony in the same erratic cadence as Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman, but his exorbitance here is justified. Tony isn’t a man; he’s a symbol of total moral corruption. The fact he’s since been adopted as an entrepreneurial cult hero is telling – so is the fact that the decade’s consumerist worship was so absurd that many critics failed to realise that De Palma was operating firmly in the role of satirist.

7. The Irishman (2019)

If the past couple of decades have seen Pacino dip into self-parody, The Irishman was his chance to reassert himself as one of the greats. The same was true of co-stars Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci – even director Martin Scorsese went out and proved he’s still the undisputed master of the gangster genre. It’s a deeply reflective, muted film that works both as a throwback to the golden era of these men’s careers and a critical re-examination of their own legacies. Pacino, playing union president Jimmy Hoffa, reignites his firebrand charisma only to immediately ground it in a complex web of righteousness and moral indignation. It might not be the showiest performance of his career, but it’s a sublime return to form.

6. Carlito’s Way (1993)

Carlito’s Way never deserved its reputation as Scarface’s little sibling. Yes, the surface similarities are there – they’re both De Palma-directed stories that star Pacino as a Latinx criminal type. But they’re tonally alien to each other. Scarface is the parody of masculinity, while Carlito’s Way tackles the idea with far more sincerity. Its main character, Carlito Brigante, has vowed to go straight, but finds that the past is near-impossible to escape. And so Pacino’s approach here is to go softer and more understated, underpinned by a sense of tragic inevitability. When harassed by Benny (John Leguizamo), a cocksure younger gangster, you can feel Carlito’s old impulse for violence rear its head. But he tries to push it down. He fumbles a little. His eyes flit around the room, suddenly filled with uncertainty. Carlito’s clearly uncomfortable with this new skin he’s crafted for himself. When his newfound dedication to morality backfires, audiences are sure to come away with a bitter taste in their mouth.

Loughrey's top five, then, are Schatzberg's The Panic in Needle Park (1971, #5), Sidney Lumet's Serpico (1973, #4), Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972, #3), Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon (1975, #2), and...
1. The Godfather Part II (1974)

Michael Corleone is, undeniably, the greatest role of the actor’s career. What makes the difference between his performance in the first and second Godfather films (the third is probably best left unmentioned) is the extent of his transformation. He starts to fall in Part I, but becomes unrecognisable by Part II. He’s a man now willing to murder his own family in order to keep its sanctity. When he gives his brother Fredo (John Cazale) the kiss of death, his emotions shift so quickly between raptorial fury – there’s a moment you think he might just crush Fredo with his own hands – and a profound sense of loss. It’s heartbreaking to see anyone so utterly consumed by darkness. Coppola inserts flashbacks to the crimes of Michael’s father, Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro), to hammer home the cyclical nature of violence. It’s one of Hollywood’s great tragic arcs. And Pacino commits like his life depends on it – those eyes we’re so used to seeing filled with fiery rage are now also flecked with deep guilt and regret. Pacino was nominated for an Oscar for The Godfather Part II, but lost the award to Art Carney for Harry and Tonto. It remains one of the Academy’s most outrageous blunders.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Friday, April 3, 2020

Yesterday, Ariel Kates at the Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation posted their "Epic Greenwich Village Watch-List." The list includes Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, which are both on HULU right now, apparently. "It’s time to dive into our beloved neighborhoods of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo as they’re seen through the movie camera lens," Kates states in the introduction. "Presented in no apparent order, this list is full of Village locations, Villagers behind and in front of the camera, romance, action, drama, intrigue, and all the things to keep us occupied when we’re looking for something to watch.

Here's the entry for Carlito's Way:

Carlito’s Way – 17 Gay Street, Greenwich Village (Hulu)

Ten years after they made “Scarface,” Al Pacino and director Brian De Palma returned with “Carlito’s Way,” another large-canvas portrait of a professional criminal. Carlito Brigante is older and wiser, and for a time seems to be luckier… you’ll have to watch it to find out what happens to him and his luck, but *spoiler alert* our hero Pacino is arrested on Gay Street. He also watches a dance at the Joffrey Ballet Theater, and explores other sites in the Village and beyond.

And the entry for Rear Window:
Rear Window – Christopher Street and Hudson Street (Hulu)

It’s not often that a building plays a starring role in a major motion picture. But in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, which premiered on August 1, 1954, that is exactly the case. Most people know that Hitchcock set the film in Greenwich Village, but did you know that the location he used as a reference for the setting actually exists? The multi-dwelling apartment building and complex of next-door buildings that share a common courtyard at the corner of Christopher Street and Hudson Street is the object of Jimmy Stewart’s obsession and where the murder in the lauded Hitchcock film takes place.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

In the above People TV video, Couch Surfing, Lola Ogunnaike interviews Luis Guzmán as they couch surf through several of Guzmán's key roles, including his role as Pachanga in Carlito's Way:
Lola: One of my favorites.

Luis: Ohhh, yeah!

Lola: I mean, you're in a Brian De Palma movie, playing Al Pacino's sidekick!

Luis: You ever meet somebody, and your hands get all cold and sweaty?

Lola: Mmm-hmm...

Luis: And you're trying to be, like, really cool about it...

Lola: [laughing] Yes!

Luis: And stuff like that...

Lola: Yes

Luis: Well, that's what it was like for me to meet Al.

Lola: Now, how did you land this part? Did you have another friend who worked on this movie and set you up?

Luis: No-, no...

Lola: Okay.

Luis: My agent, that guy that I told you I got hooked up with by Richard Aster, sent me to an audition. It was funny, because the night before, my brother-in-law and his cousin found this old beat-up leather jacket in Tompkins Square Park. I put that jacket on, and I'm wearing it to the audition, and I get my first line out, and Brian, Brian De Palma starts cracking up. And then, they go, "Thank you," and I'm, "Aw, dang, he laughed at me, man." And I got home, and the casting director called me directly, at home, to tell me, "You got the part."

Posted by Geoff at 7:59 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, January 15, 2020 6:09 PM CST
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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Patrick Doyle's score for Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way is being released on vinyl for the first time ever, as a Barnes & Noble exclusive from Varèse Sarabande Records. Hitting stores this Friday (July 12th), as part of B&N's "Vinyl Weekend," the package features new cover art by illustrator “Ghoulish” Gary Pullin. According to The Vinyl Factory's Jedd Wise, Pullin is "largely recognised for his work within the horror genre."

The Barnes & Noble page for the vinyl soundtrack features a quote from Doyle:

“I am extremely fortunate and proud to have composed the score for Carlito’s Way for the extraordinary auteur, Brian de Palma. I recognised the moment I first saw the film that it was a masterpiece and time has indeed confirmed this. Every new generation discovers Carlito’s Way and the enthusiasm and appreciation over the years for the film, for the score and for the work of all the other departments has been extremely flattering. This film has become a classic and to have my score be part of it is a tremendous honour. Thank you Brian once again.” Patrick Doyle, composer.

Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CDT
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Sunday, January 13, 2019

In a video interview to promote the new movie Replicas, John Ortiz is asked by Collider's Steve 'Frosty' Weintraub about Ortiz' first film, Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way:
Frosty: You’re someone who, I’ve admired your work for a very long time. I believe it goes back to Carlito’s Way. So, I want to definitely jump back in time… what do you remember about making that one? Because to me, every time it comes on HBO or whatever, I’m, like, hooked.

Ortiz: Yeah, that was my first movie. Ever. And what I remember was, a kid… a kid in a candy shop. I was working with Al Pacino. And Sean Penn. And Viggo Mortensen. And Brian De Palma. And I was just… whenever you saw me smile in that movie? That was real. [Laughs out loud.] I was like, [laughs and grins] This is great!

Frosty: I would imagine working with that level of talent has to rub off a little on just the way you present, the way you work in future gigs. Just learning from masters like that.

Ortiz: Yeah.

Frosty: Do you remember what you took away from that experience that you said, “I need to be like this in the future.”

Ortiz: Yeah, you know, the one big—I learned a lot. A lot of stuff. The one big thing that to this day I’ll never forget, is Al Pacino’s kindness towards me. Like he went out of his way to make sure I was taken care of. And he would run lines with me, he would ask me how I was doing, when things weren’t quite working out on set, he would make sure that I was aware of certain things, and that I was protected. And he didn’t have to do that, he was nominated for two Oscars that year. And he was Al Pacino.

And yeah, there was one incident where I was almost cut out of a scene, because I couldn’t keep my eyes closed. And they were blinking from too much caffeine. And it was messing up the shot. And so Brian was going to kind of just skim over me, onto him. And it was my death scene. It was my moment. And Pacino knew that. And I was up for 23 hours straight, so I was on espresso the whole time. So I was literally shaking. You know, I couldn’t stop it. And that’s what was causing my eyes to flicker. And De Palma said, “Okay, we’ll just go over,” [motions imaginary camera panning] and Al needed to take a flight to L.A., for the Academy Awards. And it was like, you know, an hour before his flight or something. And he (De Palma) was like, “No, I’ll just skim over and we’ll just get the shot.” And he (Pacino) cleared the room, kept me there, and he said, “I want everyone out.” And I was like, about to leave, and he was [come-back motions with his hands] “No, stay, stay, I’m just going to have an espresso. I just needed everyone out of the room.” And I’m like, [worried face, inner thoughts] “All right. What the hell am I doing here, then?” He’s like, “Do you want an espresso?” [Laughter with Frosty] And I was like, “Yeah! Yeah, sure.” I did not want an espresso, you know, but you’re never going to turn down Al Pacino’s espresso. So I had an espresso with him. I don’t know what we talked about, but it seemed like hours went by. And he called everyone back in, did the scene, and my eyes didn’t flicker. And he left. And yeah—that’s the lesson I take away from that movie.

Frosty: That’s an amazing story, and I say thank you for sharing. Seriously.

Ortiz: That’s the first time I’ve said this story on camera. I’ve told friends this story, but… it took me like ten years to tell that story to anyone, just because I held it so close to my heart.

Posted by Geoff at 11:28 PM CST
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Monday, November 12, 2018

Some notes on re-watching Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way today, 25 years after its initial release:

We start with Steffie, the catalyst in the scene above, having just seduced Kleinfeld on the dance floor and pulling him into the bathroom for a quickie. Carlito, of course, already has his attitude issues with Benny Blanco from the Bronx, and Steffie knows this-- the first time the viewer sees Steffie, from afar, she's talking to Saso but watching with keen interest as Carlito tells Benny Blanco about the "new ownership/new rules," and she witnesses, from afar, Benny's obvious respect for Carlito's legendary status. Soon, Steffie is dating Benny Blanco, before she moves on to Kleinfeld in the crucially pivotal sequence of the film pictured above.

At one point, De Palma directs Stephen H. Burum's camera eye from outside the blinds of Carlito's office window downward, to spy Steffie grilling Pachanga about Carlito's meeting with Lalin above. As De Palma shows throughout the film's first 90 minutes, Steffie is obsessed with new owner Carlito from that first time we see her. And while that first time we see her, the shot is lingered on a bit, at this point in the film, the first-time viewer has no way of knowing that this woman will be a pivotal player in the narrative (when we look over from Carlito's point-of-view, the focus is ostensibly on Saso, as Benny Blanco is pointing toward Saso as he mentions him). In this way, the shot of Steffie, at this early point in the film, is somewhat akin to De Palma having Bobbi show up in the frame during a pan on the stairs outside of the museum in Dressed To Kill, prior to our knowledge that Kate Miller is being stalked. Of course, Bobbi is merely glimpsed in the pan in question, but in both cases, a sort of subtext is visually suggested.

Shortly after first watching Carlito's encounter with Benny Blanco, Steffie approaches Carlito, who is sitting and watching a tall blonde woman across the room attempt to get her boyfriend to get up and dance with her. This scenario will be played out by Gail and Carlito much later in the film, at a different nightclub, where Carlito tells Gail, "I love to watch you." The line, of course, harkens back to De Palma's Body Double (Jake's line of dialogue in the porn film-within-the-film, "I like to watch," itself nodding to Peter Sellers's famous line from Hal Ashby's Being There). Carlito's fantasy of Paradise in the billboard at the film's end shows a dancing figure who is surely Gail, yet could also be tinged by this other blonde woman who only reminds him of Gail-- a sort of delirious vertigo at twilight as the bars are closing down. And, as Carlito stares, there's our Steffie, trying to get Carlito's attention, asking him why a good-lookin' dude like him doesn't have a woman. "Nobody but you, Stef."

Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2018 1:36 AM CST
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Friday, November 9, 2018

Two articles this past week take fresh looks at Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way, which opened in theaters 25 years ago, on November 7, 1993:

Keith Phipps, Vulture
Carlito’s Way, Scarface, and Brian De Palma’s Fantasies of Power

As the ’80s turned into the ’90s, Brian De Palma thought he was done with gangsters. He’d had tremendous success with The Untouchables in 1987, pitting Kevin Costner’s squeaky-clean Eliot Ness and Sean Connery’s pragmatic Irish cop against a Chicago underworld led by Robert De Niro’s Al Capone. And that was his third visit to gangland in four years, arriving on the heels of the instantly forgotten dark comedy Wise Guys, starring Danny DeVito and Joe Piscopo, and the very-much-not-forgotten Scarface, a bloody, Oliver Stone–scripted remake of a Howard Hawks classic starring Al Pacino as a Cuban refugee who embarks on a bloody ascent to the top of the Florida drug trade. Scarface had been controversial in 1983, thanks to some notoriously violent sequences and Everest-like mounds of cocaine, and it had never really faded from the conversation, becoming a home-video favorite and the go-to reference point for a particular strand of hip-hop. So, as proud as he was of Scarface and as much as he enjoyed working with Pacino, when a chance arose to make another film about a Latino gangster with Pacino in the lead, De Palma figured he’d pass, that he could say nothing more by returning to this world. Then he read the script, and changed his mind, quickly realizing that this was a different sort of movie.

Twenty-five years ago, Carlito’s Way might have looked like a virtual sequel to Scarface, thanks to a poster that screamed “PACINO” above a shadowy image of the star toting a gun. But its relationship to its predecessor is much more complicated. Where De Palma’s Scarface reveled in operatic scenes of violence and its bloody consequences, ending at the moment when Tony Montana runs out of rope, Carlito’s Way is the rare crime film to consider what happens after a life of crime. Is reform possible? Can a gangster with a changed heart find a way out? Can anyone escape the sins of the past? The film would play just as well in a world in which Scarface never existed, but it works even better as the somber bookend to that earlier film. Where Scarface is a film of manic highs leading to a sudden stop, Carlito’s Way is a movie of regretful mornings after. To argue one is better than the other is to miss the point: They belong together.


De Palma and screenwriter David Koepp fill the film with period detail, perfectly chosen songs, and rich local color, no doubt helped by source material written by someone who was there. The film is adapted from a pair of novels by Edwin TorresCarlito’s Way and After Hours, with most of the plot coming from the latter — the son of Puerto Rican immigrants who grew up in Spanish Harlem and served as an assistant DA and defense attorney before being appointed to the New York Supreme Court. Torres wrote crime fiction on the side, drawing from the world in which he grew up and using its tougher characters for inspiration. (Based on Torres’s appearance on the making-of doc included on the film’s home-video releases, he also seems to be the primary influence for Pacino’s vocal inflections in the film. Whether or not Pacino’s casting as a Puerto Rican would fly in 2018 is, of course, another matter entirely.) The prevailing sensibility is that of someone who’s seen how hard it is to escape a life of crime. No matter how deep the commitment, one obstacle or another keeps getting in the way.

For all of the film’s fatalistic qualities, however, Carlito’s Way is also a thrilling piece of filmmaking. Brigante’s early encounter with a new generation of gangsters in a bar’s creepy backroom is among the most tightly constructed suspense sequences of De Palma’s career, and the film ends with a set piece to rival The Untouchables’s Union Station climax or the heist at the heart of Mission: Impossible in scale and ambition: a long chase from a club to the subway to Grand Central Station to a train that’s waiting to whisk Brigante and Gail away to a new life in a better place if he can just slip away from his enemies and make it before it pulls out of the station. The filmmaking’s so breathtaking that it becomes easy to forget that you already know how this ends — that there was always only one way it could end.

Tony Montana’s story is the tale of a coke-fueled Icarus; Brigante’s is more complex, and sadder — even if neither of them makes it out of their films alive. Carlito’s Way is the moodier, more mature film, a tragedy of misplaced loyalty and a story of how our surroundings can short-circuit even our loftiest instincts. It was never destined to inspire Funko POP! figures and ridiculously expensive leather jackets. Even with its can’t-miss “crime doesn’t pay” moral, Scarface is a power fantasy. Carlito’s Way understands that power doesn’t last. Tellingly, its most sampled bit of dialogue — Brigante shouting, “Okay, I’m reloaded!” — isn’t a brag but a bluff. He’s out of ammo, faking it, just trying to get out, to live another day. The world, he now understands, is not his and never was. He may not even have a place in it much longer.

Larry C. Taylor - On Film and Film History
CARLITO'S WAY, Brian De Palma’s Unsung Masterpiece, at 25

The tension that builds through Carlito’s Way relies on Carlito’s lack of power; it isn’t about how he is going to escape with Gail (Penelope Ann Miller) to the Caribbean, it’s how he is going to navigate each and every second he stays in New York as his mere presence grows increasingly dangerous. He is vulnerable, scared, and often powerless to the influences and the decisions of the characters who surround him, and powerless to his own code, a code that convinces him to stick with his lawyer, Kleinfeld, who is so clearly the biggest roadblock in Carlito’s exodus.

Sean Penn surprised everyone when he showed up on set with a perm shaved back to resemble severe male pattern baldness. His appearance smartly sets him apart from everyone in the picture. Davey Kleinfeld is the poisonous fruit Brigante cannot avoid, not one of the neighborhood guys, but a slick outsider; Carlito unknowingly helping Kleinfeld murder Tony Taglialucci in the East River outside Riker’s Island leads to the extended chase sequence finale, but ironically it is not the source Carlito’s ultimate demise.

The one time Carlito’s old instincts jump up to bite him is his conflict with Benny Blanco, From the Bronx (John Leguizamo). The bravado of Blanco may mirror a young Carlito, it may not, but one thing is certain: Blanco’s presence stoked a long-buried fire in Carlito’s youthful soul, the one he is working so fervently to leave behind. But his decision in this moment was enough to seal his fate in Grand Central.

Brian De Palma knew from the outset he needed to inject his signature style into as much of the film as he could in order for it to stand out from the scores of gangster films that had preceded it. Even The Untouchables has a feeling of familiarity in regards to the genre. Carlito’s Way is stylistically indulgent, with De Palma employing his psychosexual thriller aesthetics early and often. The split screens and the first-person POV work brilliantly to put the suspenseful building blocks in place, and the story lends itself more to a humanistic tale than what was present in De Palma’s previous gangster films.

Carlito’s Way opened second at the box office the weekend of November 10, 1993, with just over $9 million. Reviews were solid, but word of mouth was nil. Perhaps fatigue with the gangster genre had set in by the end of 1993; the success of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas had spawned Warren Beatty’s Bugsy, but it also generated ridiculous wannabes like Billy Bathgate, Hoffa, and the embarrassingly bad Christian Slater/Richard Grieco star vehicle Mobsters. Whatever the case, Carlito’s Way quietly drifted out of the picture, accruing a meager $36 million in ticket sales; enough to cover the $30 million budget, but nothing to write home about.

In his documentary, Brian De Palma says he didn’t think he could make a better movie than Carlito’s Way. He would return three years later to kick off the Mission: Impossible franchise, but it’s difficult to argue with De Palma’s assessment of his own work. Even though Carlito’s Way hasn’t seen the kind of reappraisal that Blow Out or Dressed to Kill has in recent years, and it doesn’t have the cultural currency of Carrie or Mission: Impossible, or the prestige of The Untouchables, it might very well be his best film. It is, at times, a beautiful film with true affection for its characters. It’s an endlessly engaging thriller, tactile and true, and its collection of incredible set pieces is held together by actors and actresses who hit the heightened notes of their characters with palpable passion.

And, no matter how many times you watch it, you always hold out hope that Carlito will make it to Gail in the end, as a smile breaks through his panicked sprint across the train platform. Even though you’ve known from the outset that happiness isn’t in the cards of a condemned man, you still hope. Because you are invested in Carlito’s salvation.

That’s how great filmmaking works.

Posted by Geoff at 1:56 AM CST
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