Based off the novels After Hours and Carlito's Way by Edwin Torres, Carlito's Way is a crime/suspense noir film that was directed by Brian De Palma and released to mixed reviews in 1993. The movie follows the story of a once legendary Puero Rican heroin dealer who is released from prison and vows to go straight and retire to paradise. His past and his own "codes of the street," as well as his unusual sense of loyalty, makes him walk a dangerous fine line between being dragged down by the merciless criminal world he was once on top of or finally being able to escape it by coming up with enough money to retire in the Bahamas.
The film's adaptation was scripted by David Koepp, and the movie starred legendary actors Al Pacino and Sean Penn. Supporting actors included Penelope Ann Miller as Gail, Luis Guzman as Pachanga, John Leguizamo as Benny "from the bronx" Blanco, with a short appearance by Viggo Mortensen as Lalin.
Brain De Palma masterfully brings you into this fascinating world of Carlito Brigante. Although the character may be fictional, the vibrant and often gritty and merciless streets of East Harlem during the time isn't. This hub will provide an illustrated summary of the movie Carlito's Way as well as facts about the making of it and some behind the scenes look at one of the best crime noir films of the 90s.
Carlito's Way - an Illustrated Summary and Making Of
The film begins with Carlito being shot at a train station by an unknown assailant. As the stretcher wheels Carlito through the train station, the stretcher wheels gets stuck into a crack on the ground, in which Carlito stares at a billboard sign that says "Escape to Paradise." It is here that, Carlito begins to recollect the events prior.
We next find Carlito Brigante beating a 30 year rap due to his lawyer and friend, Dave Kleinfeld's ability to exploit District Attorney's illegal use of wiretaps. Vowing to stay clean from his past life of crime, Carlito confides in Dave about his plan to escape to the Bahamas and buy into a car rental business if he can come up with $75,000. However, Carlito needs to find a way to come up with the money without breaking his vow of returning to the "dope" business.
The Making of Carlito's Way - Pacino Spearhead's Interest
Al Pacino first brought the idea to producer Martin Bregman about making a movie about Carlito Brigante after reading the books After Hours and Carlito's Way written by New York state supreme court Judge Edwin Torres. The books were greatly inspired by the poverty, racial gangs, and drugs that permeated the East Harlem barrio where Torres was born and raised.
The character of Carlito Brigante was a composite of people he knew in the neighborhood, mainly three, as well as bits of himself. Pacino first heard of the character before the books were finished when he met Torres while shooting Serpico. Once the books were published, Pacino read them and instantly liked Carlito's character.
Martin Bregman claims the first script he read for the movie was absolutely terrible, but Pacino liked the character so much he kept pushing Bregman. Finally, it was decided that the script would have to be rewritten, and David Koepp was brought on to write the screenplay
Because Al Pacino couldn't play a younger version of Carlito Brigante, it was decided that the movie be more based on the second book After Hours. They entitled the movie Carlito's Way because of this fact and because Martin Scorcese already had a film called After Hours.
Koepp wrestled with the idea of using the voice over narrative while writing the script, but he didn't see how he could tell the story any other way.
When Brian De Palma's agent suggested he read the screenplay, De Palma was reluctant. He didn't want to do another movie about spanish-speaking gangsters and felt he already visited that area with Scarface.
Finally, De Palma caved and read the script. Realizing it was more than a gangster film, De Palma envisioned the movie as a noir film and liked the script so much he agreed to do the film.
Early cuts of the botched drug deal scene where Carlito's cousin is killed led the studio to say the scene was too long. De Palma felt the scene wasn't long enough.
Feeling he had failed to capture the geography of the scene in order for the audience to see Carlito's viewpoint on where everyone was and how close they were to give more emphasis on what the stakes were, De Palma extended the scene to bring more suspense. After the studio saw it, they remarked it was much better shorter when it was in fact longer.
Return to the Barrio
Carlito returns to the mean streets of Spanish Harlem, only to find that his barrio has drastically changed in the last five years.
Carlito (v.o): These young guys, I don't recognize 'em. Mi barrio ya no existe. (My neighborhood doesn't exist anymore).
Pachanga: Carlito, man! Death Valley out here, man. Mira, you know me. I'll take to the street with any of these mother f*ck*rs, man, but these new kids nowadays, man, they got no respect for human life. They shotgun you, man, just to see you fly up in the air, man. Chacho, you better off in jail.
When his cousin begs Carlito to accompany him to a drug deal in a local bar, Carlito reluctantly agrees to be the backup for his primo. The drug deal is botched, and his cousin is betrayed and killed. Carlito finds himself having to shoot his way out of the bar, and takes $30,000 grand of drug money that's left on the counter.
Carlito (v.o.): There ain't no more rackets out here. Just a bunch of cowboys rippin' each other off.
When David Koepp first wrote the script of Carlito's Way, he wrote the dialogue in the way the character's spoke from the books. One character who used heavy slang was Pachanga, for instance.
Some of the Latino cast members were offended by this. Koepp later changed the dialogue in the script to regular English and let the actors put the nuances of language to their characters.
Using $25,000 of the thirty grand, Carlito intends to buy his way into a successful nightclub run by Sasso. The unfortunate nightclub owner has a gambling debt, and Carlito muscles his way into buying a piece of the joint at half of Sasso's end. With little choice, Sasso has no choice but take Carlito's offer.
It's at this nightclub where he first meets a young, arrogant, up-and-coming drug lord named Benny Blanco. Benny is smitten in meeting the legendary Carlito Brigante.
Benny Blanco: You know who this man is? You know who this man is? This man here...he's the f%*king J.P. Morgan of the smack business.
Carlito: First time I ever heard that.
Despite Benny's admiration, Carlito shrugs off an invitation from Benny to sit and have a drink with him, as well as the attempts to discuss Benny's organization and business proposals.
Reuniting With Gail
Being reminded of Gail at Sasso's place, Carlito seeks out Gail and follows her to the ballet studio where she practices. Unable to get the chance to catch her before she walks in, Carlito waits outside for her and watches her dance. She finally finishes and walks out the door and past Carlito, not recognizing him. He calls out to her from behind.
Carlito: Hey, I know you, lady.
Gail: Buzz off!
Carlito: Yeah, sure you use to go out with that guy...what's his name? That good-looking guy. Oh, yeah, yeah...Carlito Brigante. That's right!
After she realizes that it's him, they both catch up at a diner and talk for awhile. Carlito learns that she is still a struggling dancer and actress, although she doesn't give too many specifics, and he subtly implies that he's done with the life. However, Gail is wary. They both part ways, both knowing that there are still feelings felt between them.
A Visit From An Old Friend
After a brief reunion with Gail, Carlito's former girlfriend, whom is a struggling actress and dancer while moonlighting as an exotic dancer to pay the bills, Carlito is visited by an old friend from the neighborhood named Lalin.
Shotgunned a few years back, Lalin, who is supposed to be in prison for 30 years, is now out but crippled and confined to a wheelchair. Carlito asks what happened to him.
Lalin: What do you mean? You didn't hear? I took a few in the back, yeah. You know when the streets when she mad at you, she don't put you in a box. She put you in one of these things.
Lalin soon starts fishing around about Carlito's activities, but Carlito tries to tell him that he's out of the dope business. Disbelieving Carlito, Lalin proposes an illegal business venture. Carlito discovers that Lalin is wired and a rat working for District Attorney Norwalk.
Carlito discovers from Lalin that somebody told Norwalk that Carlito was back in business and dealing again. Carlito let's Lalin live. Extremely upset, Carlito soon visits his friend and lawyer Dave Kleinfeld about the news. Kleinfeld assures Carlito there's nothing to worry about if Carlito is clean and that he'll take care of it.
Carlito: F@$king Lalin. There's nobody left.
Torres on Carlito's Beef With Benny:
Edwin Torres based the beef with Carlito and Benny Blanco on the resentment he'd seen with older gangsters coming back to the East Harlem barrio after serving quite a bit of time and finding these new bucks that have come up through the ranks. In the book After Hours, Torres expanded on this real-life concept he'd witnessed first-hand to bring even more tension to Carlito trying to move past his old ways.
In an interview, Torres claims that Benny Blanco, in essence, was Carlito when he was a younger and ambitious version of himself in the book Carlito's Way. Benny clearly looks up to Carlito, because that's who Benny wants to ultimately be by achieving the same legendary success that Carlito did in his "dope dealing" heyday.
However, because Benny Blanco reminds Carlito of the person he was before, and with Carlito trying to move past his old ways and the life of crime that got him incarcerated, he ultimately and extremely resents Benny Blanco and wants nothing to do with the "punk," as he calls him in this scene.
This is why Sasso is so shocked to see Carlito treat Benny Blanco with such disrespect. We see Carlito's street pride as well as the pride of his rep take over. However, we mostly see Carlito's denial and internal conflict that he's struggling with about himself in this scene. It's this denial and conflict about who he truly is that everyone else around him can see, and who he chooses to be.
Facts About the Character of Dave Kleinfeld:
Edwin Torres based Dave Kleinfeld's character off a few lawyers he had known and witnessed getting personally involved with their clients and caught up in the trappings of shady partners and business deals.
Like Dave Kleinfeld, these lawyers crossed a line that Carlito points out to Dave Kleinfeld during the movie. According to Edwin Torres, these lawyers he had known had got way in over their heads in terms of greed and power. Torres has stated that three of the lawyers that inspired Kleinfeld's character who had crossed this line were actually killed or murdered.
However, in the book After Hours, the character of Dave Kleinfeld was not killed. He was stabbed but recovers and lives on.
De Palma thought that this was too gloomy of a world to have Carlito die and Kleinfeld get away with all the character's wrongs and, especially, his betrayal to Carlito. The script was rewritten at the behest of De Palma.
Unlike the book After Hours, Dave Kleinfeld sees his end when Tony T's other son Vincent finds him in the famous hospital scene near the end and gets retribution for his father and brother.
Brian De Palma has stated during an interview that Sean Penn was remarkable. Without much discussion or even direction from De Palma, Penn just showed up to work with the frizzed hair look and shaved receding hairline.
The Subway Chase Scene Facts:
The famous subway car chase scene lasted from winter to summer. It was an extremely hard shot that Brian De Palma envisioned. During the summer, Al Pacino was wearing the heavy black leather coat and was sweating like mad doing take after take of running through the cars.
Pacino would often yell, "What are you doing?" to Brian De Palma who was in another train filming Pacino. One afternoon, Pacino just took the train back to where his trailer was. Brian De Palma went back to explain the difficulties of shooting this particular chase scene, as Al was constantly being blocked.
They went back and finally finished the scene. It would be one of the most suspenseful and articulate chase scenes. Pacino and De Palma remarked that the scene was one of the great moments in film history.
To Sum Up:
Carlito's Way is one of my favorite movies. It's one of those films that's pretty close to perfect. Carlito wants to get out of that life, but has to immerse himself back in it in order to do so. This brings lots of tension and twists, and it's not hard to root for Carlito. After all, who doesn't deserve a second chance and for love?
But, as Carlito states in the film, the streets is a living entity itself and may not want to let him go. Wonderful film and highly recommend watching it you've yet to see it.
Carlito's Way Trailer
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Vic (author) on February 15, 2012:
Thanks Steve Lensman. Yah, this hub took me a while and Carlito's Way is one of my favorites gangster films. As for Pachanga, there's a few scenes in the movie that kinda shows that he's a snake. One is when Carlito sends him to be a body guard for Kleinfeld for a while, and Pachanga mentions to Carlito that Kleinfeld has stacks of hundreds in a safe - implying they should rob him.
There's also another scene where Sasso tells Carlito that Pachanga is badmouthing Carlito and is spying on the place for Benny Blanco. It's the scene where Carlito traps the cockroach in a whiskey glass. Carlito just tells Sasso that Pachanga is his "brother". He doesn't know who's lying or telling the truth anymore.
I think it was a good shock at the end where Pachanga ends up the betrayer. Thatnks for the vote up and stopping by to comment. Always good hearing from you.
@Cammiebar, thank you as always. Yeah, I covered most of the movie, and it did take a while to write. Thanks for checking it out and commenting...always appreciated.
Cammiebar from Upstate New York on February 14, 2012:
Whoa, you went through a lot of the movie! This must have taken a very long time to write and it was done pretty methodically. Reminds me of why I follow you! Voted up!
Steve Lensman from Manchester, England on February 14, 2012:
Excellent hub on Brian De Palma's last great movie rabbit75. You seem to have covered everything on this film, it must be one of your favourites. :)
I watched it again a few weeks ago, I have a nephew who's a huge fan of this and De Palma's Scarface, he brought his blu-ray copy round.
The only thing I didn't like is that it starts off with Carlito being shot and likely dying which makes the ending a little less shocking and sad because we know its going to happen.
I love that whole finale btw and also the botched drug deal at the beginning is expertly edited and pure De Palma down to the reflection in the guys sunglasses.
And it's a little unlikely Pachanga would have betrayed Carlito, I mean he worshipped the guy, would he really have joined up with Benny Blanco from the Bronx? But that's up to the story writer he's pulling the strings.
Voted Up and awesome! Scarface deserves an epic hub too.