Carlito's Way

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Carlito's Way
Carlito's Way.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Brian De Palma
Produced by Martin Bregman
Michael Scott Bregman
Willi Bär
Screenplay by David Koepp
Based on Carlito's Way and
After Hours 
by Edwin Torres
Starring Al Pacino
Sean Penn
Penelope Ann Miller
John Leguizamo
Music by Patrick Doyle
Cinematography Stephen H. Burum
Edited by Kristina Boden
Bill Pankow
Epic Productions
Bregman/Baer Productions, Inc.
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • November 3, 1993 (1993-11-03)
Running time
144 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $30 million
Box office $63,848,322[1]

Carlito's Way is a 1993 American crime drama film directed by Brian De Palma, based on the novels Carlito's Way and After Hours by Judge Edwin Torres. The film adaptation was scripted by David Koepp. It stars Al Pacino and Sean Penn, with Penelope Ann Miller, Luis Guzmán, John Leguizamo, and Viggo Mortensen in supporting roles. The film's featured song, "You Are So Beautiful", was performed by Joe Cocker.

The film follows the life of Carlito Brigante after he is released from prison and vows to go straight and retire. Unable to escape his past, he ends up being dragged into the same criminal activities that got him imprisoned in the first place.

Penn and Miller received Golden Globe nominations for their performances. A prequel entitled Carlito's Way: Rise to Power, based on Torres's first novel, was filmed and released in 2005.


In New York City in 1975, after serving only five years of a 30-year prison sentence, Carlito Brigante is freed on a legal technicality exploited by his lawyer, Dave Kleinfeld, infuriating the district attorney. Brigante returns to his old neighborhood of Spanish Harlem, where he reconnects with old associates. Although he vows that he is finished with crime, Brigante is persuaded to accompany his cousin Guajiro to a drug deal at a bar. Guajiro is betrayed and killed while Brigante is forced to shoot his way out. He takes Guajiro's money and uses it to buy into a nightclub, with the intent of saving $75,000 to retire to the Caribbean.

Brigante declines a business partnership with an ambitious young gangster from the Bronx named Benny Blanco, disliking his manners. Brigante then rekindles a romance with former girlfriend Gail, a ballet dancer who moonlights as a stripper. An old friend, Lalin, recently released from prison and now confined to a wheelchair, tries to tempt Brigante with a drug deal but is caught wearing a wire. Brigante realizes that District Attorney Norwalk is determined to put him back behind bars.

Kleinfeld develops a love interest with Blanco's girlfriend, Steffie, a hostess at the club. Blanco's frustration with being rejected by Brigante results in his manhandling Steffie, at which point Kleinfeld pulls out a gun and threatens to kill him. Brigante intervenes, but, against his better judgment, lets Blanco go, to the disapproval of Brigante's trusted bodyguard Pachanga.

Kleinfeld, having stolen one million dollars from his Italian mob boss client, "Tony T" Taglialucci, is coerced into providing his yacht to help Tony T break out of the Rikers Island prison barge. Kleinfeld begs for help and Brigante reluctantly agrees. At night, Brigante, Kleinfeld, and Tony T's son, Frankie, sail to a floating buoy outside of the prison barge. As they pull Tony T aboard, Kleinfeld unexpectedly bludgeons him to death, then slits Frankie's throat and dumps both bodies in the East River. The next day, Kleinfeld barely survives a retaliatory assassination attempt. He is hospitalized with stab wounds.

Brigante is taken to Norwalk's office, where he and Gail listen to a tape of Kleinfeld cutting a deal and offering to testify to false criminal allegations against Brigante, his client and friend. Norwalk tries to leverage him into betraying Kleinfeld to save himself. Brigante refuses but visits the hospital, where Kleinfeld confesses to selling him out. Having noticed a suspicious man dressed in a police uniform, Brigante discreetly unloads Kleinfeld's revolver and leaves. The man is Tony T's other son, Vinnie, who sneaks into a defenseless Kleinfeld's room and kills him.

Brigante buys train tickets to Miami for himself and Gail, now pregnant. When he stops by his club to retrieve his stashed money, Brigante is met by a group of mobsters led by Vinnie. The Italians plan on killing Brigante, who slips out through a secret exit. The Italians pursue him throughout the city's subway system and into Grand Central Terminal, where they engage in a gunfight. Brigante kills all of his pursuers except Vinnie, who is shot by police attracted by the gunfire.

As Brigante runs to catch the train where Gail and Pachanga are waiting, he is ambushed by Benny, who shoots Brigante several times. Pachanga admits to Brigante that he is now working for Blanco, only to be shot as well. Brigante hands Gail the money and tells her to escape with their unborn child and start a new life. As he is wheeled away on a gurney, Brigante stares at a billboard of a woman on a Caribbean beach. The billboard comes to life, and the woman, who is clearly Gail, starts dancing as Brigante dies.


  • Al Pacino as Carlito Brigante. Pacino came to Carlito's Way directly from his Oscar-winning role in Scent of a Woman.[2] To get into the character, he accompanied Torres through East Harlem. There he could absorb the sights and atmosphere.[3] Pacino first envisioned Brigante with a ponytail, but his visits to Harlem showed the men there were not wearing their hair that way. The beard was Pacino's idea. The black leather coat fit the period setting.[4]
  • Sean Penn as David Kleinfeld. For the role of Brigante's lawyer and best friend, Penn was lured back from early retirement by the challenge of playing the role. Taking the role allowed him to finance his movie The Crossing Guard and work with Pacino.[5] De Palma and Penn discussed what 1970s mob lawyers looked like. Penn shaved the hair on the front of his forehead to give the appearance of a receding hairline. He permed the rest.[6] Alan Dershowitz, believing Penn was attempting to look like him, threatened the film-makers with a defamation lawsuit.[7]
  • Penelope Ann Miller as Gail. Casting for the role proved difficult because of the striptease scenes, which required someone who was both a talented dancer and actress.[6]
  • John Leguizamo as Benny Blanco. Leguizamo completed the main cast as an up-and-coming gangster who is determined to exceed Brigante's reputation but who lacks any sense of ethics.[8]
  • Luis Guzmán as Pachanga. In Koepp's first draft of the screenplay, he spoke primarily in very heavy slang, but following rumbles from the Latino cast and crew, Koepp toned this down.[9]
  • Jorge Porcel as Saso
  • Ingrid Rogers as Steffie
  • Ara Gelici as Delale Sirnak
  • James Rebhorn as District Attorney Bill Norwalk
  • Joseph Siravo as Vincent "Vinnie" Taglialucci
  • Frank Minucci as Anthony "Tony T" Taglialucci
  • Adrian Pasdar as Frank "Frankie" Taglialucci
  • Richard Foronjy as Pete Amadesso
  • Viggo Mortensen as Lalin
  • John Augstin Ortiz as Guajiro
  • Al Israel as Rolando
  • Ángel Salazar as Walberto.
  • Orlando Urdaneta as a bartender
  • Rick Aviles as Quisqueya


Pacino first heard about Carlito Brigante in a YMCA gym in New York in 1973. Pacino was working out for his movie Serpico when he met New York Supreme Court Judge Edwin Torres (the author who was writing the novels Carlito's Way and After Hours). When the novels were completed, Pacino read them and liked them, especially the character of Brigante.[4] Inspiration for the novels came from Torres's background, things that were most familiar to him: the East Harlem barrio where he was born and raised in an atmosphere of racial gangs, drugs, and poverty.[10] In 1989, Pacino faced a $6 million lawsuit from producer Elliott Kastner, who claimed Pacino had reneged on an agreement to star in his version of a Carlito Brigante movie with Marlon Brando as lawyer David Kleinfeld. The suit was dropped and the project was abandoned.[4]

Pacino went to producer Martin Bregman with the intention of getting a Carlito Brigante film made.[11] The first thing on the list was to get a script written that would portray Brigante's world and provide a suitable showcase for Pacino's talents.[11] David Koepp had just finished writing the script for Bregman's film The Shadow when producer Michael S. Bregman suggested that he write the script for Carlito's Way.[2] The decision came that the screenplay would be based on the second novel After Hours as Brigante at that stage would match more closely with Pacino's age.[3] Although based primarily on the second novel, the title Carlito's Way remained,[3] mainly because of the existence of Martin Scorsese's movie After Hours.[2] Bregman would work closely with Koepp for two years to develop the shooting script for Carlito's Way.[2]

Koepp wrestled with the voice-over throughout the writing process. Initially the voice-over was to take place in the hospital, but De Palma suggested the train station platform.[9] The hospital scenes were written 25 to 30 times because the actors had trouble with the sequence, with Pacino even thinking that Brigante would not go to the hospital. With one final re-write, Koepp managed to make the scene work to Pacino's satisfaction.[9] In the novels Kleinfeld does not die, but De Palma had a huge sense of justice and retribution and could not have Brigante killed off but have Kleinfeld live.[9]

At one point, The Long Good Friday director John Mackenzie was linked with the film. When Carlito's Way and its sequel After Hours were optioned, Martin Bregman had Abel Ferrara in mind as a director. However, when Bregman and Ferrara parted ways, De Palma was brought in. Bregman explained that this decision was not about "getting the old team back together", but rather making use of the best talent available.[4] De Palma, reluctantly, read the script and as soon as Spanish-speaking characters cropped up, he feared it would be Scarface all over again.[6] He said that he did not want to make another Spanish-speaking gangster movie.[4] When De Palma finally did read the script all the way through, he realized it was not what he thought it was. De Palma liked the script and envisioned it as a noir movie.[2] Bregman supervised casting throughout the various stages of pre-production, and selected the creative team. This included production designer Richard Sylbert, editor Bill Pankow, costume designer Aude Bronson-Howard and director of photography Stephen Burum.[12]

Initially, filming began on March 22, 1993, though the first scheduled shoot, the Grand Central Station climax, had to be changed when Pacino showed up on crutches. Instead, the pool hall sequence, where Pacino accompanies his young cousin Guajiro on an ill-fated drug deal, started the production.[5] Because the film was heavily character based and featured little action, the early pool sequence had to be elaborate and set up right. A huge amount of time was spent setting it up and filming it.[6] After the studio had viewed a cut of the pool hall sequence, a note was passed onto the crew stating that they felt the scene was too long. De Palma spent more time adding to the sequence and with the help of editor Bill Pankow made it work. The producers came back saying "much better shorter."[9]

Apart from the poster sequence, which was shot in Florida, the entire movie was filmed on location in New York. De Palma roamed Manhattan searching for suitable visual locations. A tenement on 115th Street became the site of Brigante's homecoming. The courtroom, in which Brigante thanks the prosecutor, was shot in Judge Torres's workplace, the State Supreme Court Building at 60 Centre Street.[5] The Club Paradise was initially in a West Side brownstone as the model for the book's postprandial premises, but this was considered too cramped for filming. A multi-level bistro club designed by De Palma took shape at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Long Island City, in a style of 1970's art deco disco.[13]

Tony Taglialucci's escape from Rikers Island, a night shoot mid-river, was considered impossible. Instead, the production used a Brooklyn shipyard where Kleinfeld's boat was lowered into an empty "lock" into which river water was pumped. Smoke machines and towers of space lights were installed.

For the finale, De Palma staged a chase scene from the platform of the 125th Street (IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line). The actual location was in Brooklyn at Smith–Ninth Streets (IND Culver Line) F and G trains, to the escalators of Grand Central Terminal. For the shoot, trains were re-routed and timed so that Pacino and his pursuers could dart from car to car.[13] The length of the escalator scene during the climactic shoot out at Grand Central Station caused a headache for editor Pankow. He had to piece together the sequences so that the audience would be so tied up in the action that they would not be thinking about how long the escalator was running.[14]


Carlito's Way wrapped on July 20, 1993, and was released on 3 November 1993.[15] Critical response to the theatrical release was mixed to positive. The film was criticized for re-treading old ground,[16] mainly De Palma's own Scarface and The Untouchables.[17][18] Roger Ebert stated in his review that the film was "one of De Palma's finest with some of the best set-pieces he has done."[18] Patrick Doyle was praised on his scoring of the film soundtrack, which was described as "elegiac" and "hauntingly beautiful," which "displays Doyle as one of the major talents of modern film scoring."[19] Peter Travers in Rolling Stone criticised the film for Pacino's "Rican" accent slipping into his "Southern drawl from Scent of a Woman", "De Palma's erratic pacing and derivative shootouts" and "what might have been if Carlito's Way had forged new ground and not gone down smokin' in the shadow of Scarface."[20]

On Siskel & Ebert, Ebert gave the film a thumbs up while Siskel gave it a thumbs down.[20] Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman described the film as a "competent and solidly unsurprising urban-underworld thriller" and "okay entertainment," but went on to say that the plot would have worked better as a "lean and mean Miami Vice episode."[21] The film has a fresh rating of 80% on the Rotten Tomatoes review site from a sample of 44 reviews.[22]

Bregman was surprised by some of the negative reviews, but stated that some of the same reviewers have since "retracted" their views upon further discussions of the film.[11] A few weeks before the film's premiere, De Palma told the crew not to get their hopes up about the film's reception. He correctly predicted that Pacino, having just won an Oscar, would be criticized; Koepp, having just done Jurassic Park, would "suck"; Penn would be "brilliant" because he had not done anything for a while; and he himself, having not been forgiven for The Bonfire of the Vanities, would not quite be embraced.[9]

Carlito's Way premiered with an opening weekend box office taking of over $9 million. At the end of its theatrical run, the film had grossed over $36 million in the United States and $26 million worldwide for a total of over $63 million.[1] Sean Penn and Penelope Ann Miller both received Golden Globe nominations for their respective roles as Kleinfeld and Gail.[23] The French publication Cahiers du cinéma named it as the best film of the 1990s along with The Bridges of Madison County and Goodbye South Goodbye.[16][24]

Cultural influence[edit]

Although the film was not considered a success with its initial theatrical run, the film was popular on home video and gained a growing fan base.[16]

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City character Ken Rosenberg, is based on Sean Penn's character David Kleinfeld.

American heavy metal band Slipknot sampled Pacino's line "Here comes the pain" from the film in their song "(sic)".

Jay-Z has used samples of Pacino's dialogue in some of his songs including "Brooklyn's Finest".[25]


Patrick Doyle composed the original score, while Musical supervisor Jellybean Benitez supplemented the soundtrack with elements of salsa, merengue and other authentic styles.[12]


Carlito's Way: Original Motion Picture Score
Carlito's Way Score Cover.jpg
Film score by Patrick Doyle
Released 1993
Genre Soundtrack
Label Varese Sarabande
No. Title Length
1. "Carlito's Way"   5:17
2. "Carlito and Gail"   4:05
3. "The Cafe"   1:59
4. "Laline"   2:36
5. "You're Over, Man"   2:09
6. "Where's My Cheesecake?"   2:12
7. "The Buoy"   4:04
8. "The Elevator"   1:45
9. "There's an Angle Here"   2:18
10. "Grand Central"   10:08
11. "Remember Me"   4:52


Carlito's Way: Music From The Motion Picture
Carlito's Way Soundtrack Cover.jpg
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released November 9, 1993
Genre Soundtrack
Label Sony
No. Title Artist Length
1. "I Love Music"   The O'Jays  
2. "Rock the Boat"   The Hues Corporation  
3. "That's the Way I Like It"   KC and the Sunshine Band  
4. "Rock Your Baby"   George McCrae  
5. "Parece Mentira"   Marc Anthony  
6. "Rock With You"   Michael Jackson  
7. "Back Stabbers"   The O'Jays  
8. "TSOP-The Sounds of Philadelphia"   MFSB  
9. "Got to be Real"   Cheryl Lynn  
10. "You Sexy Thing"   Hot Chocolate  
11. "Lady Marmalade"   Labelle  
12. "Pillow Talk"   Sylvia  
13. "El Watusi"   Ray Barretto  
14. "Oye Como Va"   Santana  
15. "You Are So Beautiful"   Joe Cocker  

Other songs heard in the film, but not included on the soundtrack, are "You Should Be Dancing" by The Bee Gees (Released in 1976), "Fly, Robin, Fly" by Silver Convention (Released in 1975) and "Do It ('Til You're Satisfied)" by B.T. Express (Released in 1974).


The film has been released on VHS and LaserDisc in both standard and widescreen versions.[22] It was later released on DVD in 2004,[26] with an Ultimate Edition following in 2005.[27] The Ultimate Edition DVD includes deleted scenes, an interview with De Palma, a making-of documentary and more.[28] In 2007 an HD DVD version was released, which features the same bonus material as the Ultimate Edition.[29] The film was released on Blu-ray on May 28, 2010.


Edwin Torres' first novel Carlito's Way was filmed and released direct-to-video in 2005, under the title Carlito's Way: Rise to Power. Although critically panned, Torres did give the film his blessing and considers it to be an accurate adaptation of the first half of his novel, with a planned sequel for the second half in the works.[30] It stars Jay Hernandez as Carlito, with Mario Van Peebles, Michael Joseph Kelly, Luis Guzmán, Jaclyn DeSantis, Sean Combs, Burt Young, and Domenick Lombardozzi also appearing. The story is set in 1969, where three prisoners, Earl (Van Peebles), Rocco (Kelly) and Carlito (Hernandez), control their criminal empire within their cell. Upon their release, they soon take control of the drug trade in Spanish Harlem.[31]


  1. ^ a b "Carlito's Way (1993)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 15, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Carlito's Way Press Pack, p. 4.
  3. ^ a b c Edwin Torres (2004). The Making of Carlito's Way (DVD). Universal. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Hot Dog magazine, August 2000, p. 30.
  5. ^ a b c Hot Dog magazine, August 2000, p. 33.
  6. ^ a b c d Brian De Palma (2004). The Making of Carlito's Way (DVD). Universal. 
  7. ^ Kelly, Richard T. (2005). Sean Penn: His Life and Times. Canongate Books. p. 273. ISBN 9781841957395. Retrieved January 15, 2011. 
  8. ^ Carlito's Way Press Pack, p. 6.
  9. ^ a b c d e f David Koepp (2004). The Making of Carlito's Way (DVD). Universal. 
  10. ^ Carlito's Way Press Pack, p. 2.
  11. ^ a b c Martin Bregman (2004). The Making of Carlito's Way (DVD). Universal. 
  12. ^ a b Carlito's Way Press Pack", p. 7.
  13. ^ a b Carlito's Way Press Pack", p. 8.
  14. ^ Bill Pankow (2004). The Making of Carlito's Way (DVD). Universal. 
  15. ^ Hot Dog magazine, August 2000, p. 34.
  16. ^ a b c Zoller Seitz, Matt (November 21, 2006). "Carlito's Way". Reverse Shot (Museum of the Moving Image). Retrieved March 26, 2008. 
  17. ^ Berardinelli, James (1993). "Review by Berardinelli". Retrieved March 26, 2008. 
  18. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (November 12, 1993). "Carlito's Way". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 26, 2008. 
  19. ^ "Carlito's Way score". Retrieved March 26, 2008. 
  20. ^ a b Travers, Peter (November 10, 1993). "Carlito's Way". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 16, 2008. 
  21. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (November 12, 1993). "Carlito's Way". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved April 16, 2008. 
  22. ^ a b "Carlito's Way (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 16, 2008. 
  23. ^ "Awards". IMDb. Retrieved March 26, 2008. 
  24. ^ Villella, Fiona A. "A Revelation: Carlito's Way". Archived from the original on February 25, 2008. Retrieved March 26, 2008. 
  25. ^ O'Neal, Sean. "(sic) Lyrics". Retrieved May 15, 2008. 
  26. ^ "Carlito's Way at Amazon". Retrieved April 10, 2008. 
  27. ^ "Carlito's Way at DVD Times". Retrieved April 10, 2008. 
  28. ^ Barsanti, Chris. "Film Critic DVD review". Retrieved April 10, 2008. 
  29. ^ "HD DVD review at High-Def Digest". High-Def Digest. Retrieved April 10, 2008. 
  30. ^ "Carlito's Way Rise to Power". Retrieved April 10, 2008. 
  31. ^ "Rise to Power review at High-Def Digest". High-Def Digest. Retrieved April 10, 2008. 


  • Universal Pictures, Carlito's Way "Press Pack", 1993.
  • Highbury Entertainment, "The Making Of Carlito's Way", Hotdog Magazine, August 2000.

External links[edit]