Skip navigation

Ten Word or Less Review – Scarface gets old.

Brian De Palma, the hack bastard of all hack bastards, can make wretched cinema like few others.  Not content to just make a bad flick, he takes resounding dumps right on screen which soil your brain for life.  His list of failures is massive and his output over the past 20 years has been consistently awful.  Even in his so called heyday he made unmitigated shit like The Fury and Body Double.  Even classics like Dressed to Kill annoy me endlessly.  But even a dogs ass catches a ray of sunlight some days and on occasion De Palma stumbles into a decent movie despite his dogged attempt to make a big celluloid stink.  The Untouchables is classic movie escapism of the highest order.  Blow Out is a shockingly grand achievement.  And after missing it time and time again, Carlito’s Way turns out to be a pretty decent entry in the modern gangster genre.  It’s perhaps the last time the sun shone on De Palma’s tuches.

Carlito feels like a pseudo apology to the world for that wretchedly misconstrued piece of pop-art dogshit that was Scarface.  An epic joke of overindulgence, vulgarity and lunacy, Scarface has spent decades being idolized by society’s zero class, moron, wanna-be-a-thug population.  If you know someone with a Scarface poster on their wall get better friends.  It stands as an overriding example of how legions of people can watch something and completely miss the point.  Looking to delve back into the crime genre and avoid any dunderheaded interpretations, De Palma and star Al Pacino go back to the gangster well and craft a story of lost opportunity around an aging hood.  After 5 years in the clink, Carlito Brigante is sprung from the joint because of the diligence of his lawyer (Sean Penn).  Back on the street and facing middle age, he plans wholeheartedly to walk a straight line and retire to the sunset, but just a few hours into freedom there’s a gun in his hand and dead people at his feet.  We know Carlito is doomed, it’s simply a matter of us caring one way or the other.  The viewer has to simply cross his fingers and hope De Palma’s arch, overreaching tendencies don’t derail the effort.

Coming off an Oscar win for Scent of a Woman, Carlito firmly entrenched Pacino in the worn down, middle aged Tyrannosaurus of a man  he so magnificently played for about a decade.  Between Woman, Carlito, Heat, Any Given Sunday and Insomnia Pacino had a very admirable run of material in which he excelled.  Devil’s Advocate was a magnificent piece of showing off.  For Pacino, Carlito is a hypothesis of what happened had Tony Montana not snorted a mound a blow and shown those gunmen his little friend.  He instead jumped out the window and got old.  Where there was bravado and bluster, there’s now calm and a semblance of wisdom.  Carlito really does want nothing more to get out, but like Pacino famously uttered three years earlier in his derided Godfather III, they keep pulling him back in.  He adds a graceful narration to things which give the movie an occasional calmed spirit it uses to its advantage.

Pacino is ably backed up by a solid supporting cast headlined by Sean Penn as his curly headed, Jewish lawyer.  Penn does excellent supporting work here, portraying an inherently weak and scheming type.  It flew in the face of the grim, macho persona Penn had catered to till then and it’s a fine example of the diversity he’s capable of when he wants to reach for it.  Also surprising in a typical girlfriend part is Penelope Ann Miller.  I never gave Miller much credit for screen presence and her subsequent vanishing from the movie landscape as the 90’s wore on seemed to validate the thought, but she holds her own and proves a solid presence against the always intimidating Pacino.  She’s clearly too young for the part and it’s an underwritten role but she makes it work for what it is.  Luis Guzman is also here playing Luis Guzman.  As far as I know Luis Guzman has never not played Luis Guzman.

Now we come to the De Palma factor.  The big BD can make the greatest actor in the greatest scenario look like a second rate hack if he gives into his unchecked, Hitchcock worshiping instincts.  The man rarely found a cinematic situation he couldn’t over direct in a heartbeat.  And while he’s working at an elevated, melodramatic level he stays just on this side of bearable.  He at times flirts with turning Carlito into grandiose visual excess but Pacino keeps the thing anchored and respectable.  Having a decent screenplay and a dedicated leading man help to no end when your director seems adamant about turning his movie into delirious, soap opera popcorn.

For me and De Palma it’s been a long, bumpy road.  Some nice ups punctuated with major downs.  I don’t have much left of his resume left to pick over.  A few lesser efforts that even his worshipers seem to make little fuss over.  I doubt I’ll get to them.  It’s nice to leave things on a decent note.  From now on when Carlito plays on cable I’ll be inclined to stay on the channel and enjoy the ride.  But with my luck I’ll just happen across Mission to Mars or Snake Eyes again.  Why does anyone watch Mission to Mars?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: