“Carlito’s Way” is an adaptation of two novels by Judge Edwin Torres: the one that gives it its title and After Hours. Adapted by David Koepp, it tells the tale of Carlito Brigante, a New York criminal who consistently tries to leave his life of crime behind but keeps getting dragged back into it. It’s almost the “Better Call Saul” of gang movies, the tale of a man who tries repeatedly to do the right thing but keeps finding himself doing the wrong thing instead. It’s a fascinating mirror to “Scarface,” a movie that Pacino and De Palma made a decade earlier. This film feels in many ways like an antidote to the excess of that one. It’s clearly the product of an older filmmaker and actor, a balance of the exuberance of youth from their previous film with ideas like regret. In my opinion, “Carlito’s Way” is vastly superior. (I think it’s second only to “Blow Out” in De Palma’s entire career.)
The Arrow-commissioned release of “Carlito’s Way” contains one of their phenomenal 4K transfers, allowing for a greater appreciation of Stephen H. Burum’s cinematography. This film has a lot of interior shots in dark rooms, and the 4K transfer highlights the use of space, shadows, and even cigarette smoke in new ways. This release also features a strong sound mix, one that seems to amp up the phenomenal score by Patrick Doyle, which gives the piece a sense of high theatrical tragedy right from the very beginning.
As for the special features, the Seitz audio commentary is one of the best of the year, but Arrow also imports several excellent archival features and includes a few new interviews: one with Torres and one with the editors Bill Pankow and Kristina Boden, who explain how quickly this film was shot and put together—it started shooting in March 1993 and was in theaters in November. That’s insane for a film of this scope. And it’s a reminder that sometimes great art comes from a collaboration of artists forced to rely on their instincts and ability instead of over-planning or long windows of time.