Academy Award winner Al Pacino reunites with his Scarface director Brian De Palma for this tough-minded thriller about a gangster looking for salvation down the mean streets of 1970s New York City. Gangster Carlito Brigante (Pacino) gets released early from prison thanks to the work of his lawyer, Kleinfeld (Sean Penn, Milk). Vowing to go straight, Carlito nonetheless finds dangers waiting for him in the outside world. As Carlito works toward redemption, Kleinfeld sinks into cocaine-fueled corruption. When Kleinfeld crosses the mob, Carlito gets caught in the crossfire and has to face a hard choice: remain loyal to the friend who freed him or protect a new life with the woman he loves (Penelope Ann Miller, The Relic). With enemies closing in from all sides, Carlito must find his way before it's too late. Also starring John Leguizamo (Land of the Dead), Luis Guzmán (Magnolia), and Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings), Carlito's Way has come to be regarded as among De Palma's most accomplished films. A hard-hitting gangster noir laced with romance and melancholy, powerful performances and nail-biting suspense.
Arrow Video releases their own Limited Edition Blu-ray for Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way, presenting the film in a ratio of 2.35:1 on a triple-layer disc with HDR10 and a 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition encode. Arrow also includes a standard Blu-ray disc holding all of the video features and a 1080p presentation of the film, which looks to be utilizing the 4K restoration, too.
Arrow appears to be using the same 4K master Universal used for their own 4K UHD release, which (according to the notes) was sourced from a 4K scan of the 35mm original camera. This is perfectly fine, as Universal’s disc looks excellent, but that doesn’t leave Arrow much flexibility in making the image look better and sway potential customers to their edition rather than Universal’s (though Arrow’s does ultimately beat out Universal’s in other ways).
That all said, the presentation looks great! It’s a significant improvement over Universal’s previous Blu-ray edition, which had a very dated look, rendering an image with a cleaner film-like quality. Film grain looks fantastic, rendered cleanly and naturally, which leads to those finer details and textures jumping off the screen in ways neither the Blu-ray or DVD could manage, as evidenced by the weathered look of Pacino’s jacket. The wider contrast also boosts the film’s many darker sequences, particularly the smokey interiors of the film’s many club sequences, with the light there blending cleanly into the shadows. The wider color range afforded by HDR10 also boosts things quite a bit, particularly in handling reds that could look a little flat in previous masters, mainly when reflecting off surfaces in those darker shots.
The print is in fine shape, but a few minor blemishes occasionally appear. It’s usually tiny bits of dirt and nothing else. Again, it all looks terrific, but it’s not a significant upgrade over Universal’s 4K edition. If I were told that Arrow’s is better encoded with cleaner grain, I’d believe it, but watching both on television, I can’t say there is a big difference. Still, it is a lovely-looking presentation.
[Arrow’s 1080p presentation of the film on the standard Blu-ray looks to use the same 4K restoration and is a notable improvement over the Universal Blu-ray for those considering an upgrade in that department.]
(The SDR screen grabs are taken directly from the source disc. They have been converted from PNG files to JPGs. While they should provide a general idea of quality, they should not be used for reference purposes.)
Arrow’s 4K edition replicates Universal’s with the same DTS:X soundtrack alongside DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 options. I didn’t find the DTS:X soundtrack to be that showy, and I can’t say it was all that different from the 5.1 soundtrack (on my 5.1.2 sound system). Yet it does have some subtle moments where music within the film or sound effects in the film’s action scenes are mixed around the viewer. Past that, it’s still very front-heavy, but the audio is clear and crisp and features excellent range. It sounds great.
Where Arrow’s edition bests Universal’s 4K edition is in the department of special features, porting over the small selection Universal has been recycling on their releases for the last couple of decades and adding some newly produced content. That content includes two audio commentaries, one by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz and another by writer Dr. Douglas Keesey. Keesey’s ends up being a partial one, covering the first 51 minutes of the film and then picking up again at around 2 hours and 10 minutes to cover the film’s climax in the train station. The early portions of the track end up being more of a general overview of the film and its characters, from its noir conventions to how the actors portray their respective characters, Sean Penn wanting to conjure up images of Bozo the Clown with his. He talks a little about the two novels on which the film is based (“Carlito’s Way” and “After Hours,” though the film takes more from the latter) and also looks at how the film foreshadows later events. This is all well and good but can feel a bit like filler as Keesey seems to be more interested in De Palma’s structure of the film and individual sequences, covering this to a certain extent in the first portion of the film but ultimately saving most of his comments for the last 20 minutes. A large part of this sequence was done in a single take, and Keesey breaks it down to individual moments while also admiring how De Palma clearly conveys the geography of the setting so that you know where each character is at any given time.
I liked it more when Keesey focused on this aspect of the film, with the rest of the track feeling a bit like filler, primarily since Seitz’s feature-length one already covers the ground Keesey goes over in the film's first portion. In this track, he talks about the film’s story and its noir-ish elements, bringing up the original novels in turn, and then analyzes the framing and editing of the film’s more ambitious set pieces, from the early poolhall scene to the lengthy trains station chase. This includes his admiration of the film’s framing, which Seitz laments as a lost art. On top of all of this, he addresses controversies around the film, primarily the casting of Pacino as a Puerto Rican, bringing up statements from co-star John Leguizamo (as Keesey does in his track), and even throws in fun bits of trivia, like where he points out where he used to live. He also can’t help but chuckle each time Penn shows up. It’s a well-rounded and insightful track with keen observations around the film’s look, structure, and performances while feeling loose and unscripted without ever wandering or losing focus.
Arrow also includes a dual-layer Blu-ray featuring a 1080p presentation of the film alongside all the video features; no other features are found on the 4K disc outside the commentaries. This includes material produced in 2005 and featured on Universal’s releases, like 5 minutes worth of excerpts from an interview with Brian De Palma, the director talking about the story, the visuals, and its ultimate failure with critics, something he was expecting. There’s also a 35-minute making-of documentary featuring De Palma and others, including author Edwin Torres. The documentary covers the ground you’d expect, from inception to release, and it gets a bit into its disappointing box office and critical reception. Where I found it most interesting, however, is how Torres is represented in it compared to how he comes across in a new 12-minute interview with him recorded exclusively for this release. You get a sense of his personality in the making-of, but it’s clear they felt the need to have him tone things down for it after viewing this since his language is a little more colorful. He first explains what drove him to write (covered elsewhere in the features) before talking about his experience with the film adaptation of his two novels. This includes him expanding on a story about how locals weren’t fond of the casting of Pacino, which he found absurd. I also had no idea that Torres pushed the casting of Luis Guzman, whose career would pick up after this film. I’m disappointed it’s not longer, but it’s an excellent inclusion, and I’m so happy Arrow took the time.
Also new is a 17-minute featurette with editors Bill Pankow and Kristina Boden, who precisely explain what working on a De Palma film is like. There’s some focus placed on a couple of sequences, like the pool hall, and the two walk us through how everything is set up in the initial shots before working through the scene's action so that the audience knows where everyone and everything is at any given point. It’s pretty fascinating, though I almost wish this was expanded into something like a visual essay. Still, it’s a wonderfully informative piece and one of the more vital new features here.
David Edelstein next provides a 17-minute appreciation for the film and its director. The film was made during a period when De Palma was experiencing what one could define as a rough patch, his previous three films (Casualties of War, Raising Cain, and Bonfire of the Vanities) having all faced “issues” of varying degrees and Edelstein explains the importance of this film for the filmmaker who was looking to reestablish himself as, Edelstein points out, the film’s central character does. From this context, Edelstein looks at how the film differs from De Palma’s other work, from the lack of a significant set piece (though one could argue there are a few smaller ones) to how he uses the camera. He also discusses the performances, focusing on John Leguizamo’s “blindingly brilliant” one. An excellent summary of the film’s strengths in the context of De Palma’s career at the time.
The last new supplement is a 3-minute featurette looking at the film’s locations then and now. From there, the disc includes the same deleted scenes found in previous editions, including an extended sequence for the scene where Carlito is locked outside Gail’s apartment. The disc also contains an original 5-minute promotional featurette, the teaser and theatrical trailers, and an image gallery, mainly consisting of production photos and lobby cards.
The limited edition also includes collectible postcards, a fold-out poster (with the new art on one side and the original poster art on the other), and a 58-page booklet featuring an extensive piece (divided into sections) by Barry Forshaw about De Palma’s career and the history of Carlito’s Way’s production. It then features press notes on the production and the film’s cast and crew. Forshaw’s is incredibly in-depth and well-written and may be the primary reason to pick up this edition.
The film was unfairly ignored during its initial release, and though it has grown in stature through the decades, Universal has never treated it the way it truly deserved. Arrow finally rights that with this beautiful special edition. The presentation isn’t all that different from Universal’s already sharp-looking 4K edition, but Arrow has packed some great supplementary material.