Director Brian De Palma re-teams with Al Pacino (Scarface) and Sean Penn (Casualties of War) for Carlito’s Way, a tense, operatic gangster movie about displaced loyalties, mismatched lovers and reaping what you sow.
Pacino plays Carlito Brigante, the former ringleader of a heroin ring, recently released from prison on a technicality discovered by his lowlife, scumbag lawyer David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn). Unbeknownst to Carlito, Kleinfeld has used his connections as an attorney for the underworld to become a junior gangster himself. All Carlito wants to do is go straight and save enough money to live in the Bahamas and rent Jeeps to tourists, but Kleinfeld sucks Carlito back into the seedy world of crime, drugs and mobsters.
To exacerbate matters, Carlito has tracked down his former girlfriend Gail (Penelope Ann Miller), a ballerina-turned-stripper who wants nothing more than to settle down with Carlito, but fears wisely that his association with Kleinfeld can only lead to ruin. Carlito, however, honors the code of the streets, and feels indebted to Kleinfeld as a friend. Hounded by D.A. Norwalk (James Rebhorn), targeted by young turks on the way up the family ladder and sold out by his friends, Carlito’s way out is derailed before it can even begin.
De Palma, an over-the-top director (not that that’s a bad thing), fails to keep Pacino, an over-the-top actor (not that that’s a bad thing, either), in check and the result is another Pacino Screamy McScreamerson role, albeit with a Puerto Rican accent. However, Sean Penn is brilliantly sniveling as Kleinfeld, the cocaine-addled opportunist who rats out his buddies. Penn’s career is littered with whiny little rat-faced characters, but the afroed Kleinfeld is the be-all-end-all of slimeballs. Penelope Ann Miller sizzles as Gail, a terrific leading lady who unfortunately doesn’t work nearly enough.