It's a very good five star movie--for many reasons.
The story itself.
The screenplay. Much different in crucial ways than the two novels that spawned this movie.
With that in mind, don't skip the bonus features, including the fascinating "making of." This is no puff-piece. It's a four way dialogue, with the novelist (a Spanish Harlem judge, no less), the screenwriter (David Koepp, first two Jurassic Park movies; Mission Impossible, Spiderman, War of the Worlds), the producer,(Martin Bregman) and the director.(Brian De Palma.) Watch how these people--three of whom are responsible for Scarface--worked with the actors, and created this movie that so many people love. Fascinating behind-the-scenes. (For example: should we do voice-over narration or not?) Revelation: it was Al Pacino who gave the books to producer Bregman--who wasn't keen on the books. Al was enraptured by the character he saw himself portraying; HAD to make this movie! De Palma was tough to persuade, too ("Didn't we do all that with Scarface?). But when he read the script and knew Al Pacino was behind it...
Kudos to someone who often gets overlooked, too: Sean Penn. When he arrived on the set director and producer had panic attacks--he'd completely altered his appearance to play the role of the zonked-out attorney! But Penn nailed it--hair and all--first day in.
Many critics slammed this movie. Oscar ignored it--not even a nomination. However, as screenwriter Koepp says, many critics reversed their opinion as the years went by.
Set in New York’s disco era Brian De Palma’s gritty story of one remorseful soul’s quest for redemption, based on the books by Edwin Torres, is an antithesis of sorts to 1983’s "Scarface". Unlike Tony Montana’s headlong rush towards damnation, Carlito is struggling upstream all the way; a one-time criminal kingpin trying to put his past to rest. A brilliant supporting cast, including an unrecognizable Sean Penn as his coke-snorting lawyer, keep Pacino’s character slightly off balance as he struggles to redefine “right” from “wrong” while whirling cinematography and a score of old dance hits propel the action forward. Of course it wouldn’t be a De Palma film without a touch of the surreal and clever allusions to Heaven vs Hell are used throughout—the word “Paradise” pops up in various guises and a climactic encounter involves people going up (or down) escalators. Not your usual gangster film.
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