In 2023, Brian De Palma’s underworld saga Carlito’s Way turns 30 years old. The film has amassed a loyal and impressive following in three decades of film fans genuflecting to De Palma’s skills and the wide collection of supercharged performances. The physical media purveyor Arrow Video has brought Carlito’s Way to the 4K UHD format with a new edition arriving on store shelves on September 26th with new retrospective special features. Film Obsessive was graciously granted a preview copy of the release for our “On the Shelf” series.
The 1993 crime drama was set up to be a comeback film for director Brian De Palma after a string of box office disappointments, including The Bonfire of the Vanities. Based on the novels of Edwin Torres and scripted by Hollywood hitmaker David Koepp (Jurassic Park), Carlito’s Way follows the story of Carlito Brigante (Pacino), a former Puerto Rican gangster who is released from prison with hopes of leaving his criminal past behind. Carlito’s plan is to go straight, but he quickly becomes entangled in the world of drug dealing and betrayal in 1970s New York City.
As he tries to escape his past, Carlito finds himself pulled back into the violent and dangerous underworld he once ruled. He befriends his loyal and street-smart lawyer, Dave Kleinfeld (Sean Penn in chameleon mode). In a battle of age-against-youth, Brigante is pitted against an up-and-coming hoodlum named Benny Blanco (the scene-stealing John Leguizamo). Meanwhile, he rekindles a romantic relationship with Gail, an old flame and aspiring dancer (Penelope Ann Miller from Kindergarten Cop, who hopped into a not-so-secret affair with Pacino during production), with tragic results.
Carlito’s Way is a gripping tale of redemption, loyalty, and the struggle to break free from a life of crime. It explores the complexities of Carlito’s journey as he battles to avoid the inevitable and tragic consequences of his criminal past. Though the film opened to mixed reviews and gained small success at the box office, its appreciation popularity has grown in three decades. Many come back for the star-making role for Leguizamo, the scenery-chewing from Penn and early career attention for future Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen as traitorous underling, Luis Guzman as Carlito’s right hand man, and John Ortiz as a tagalong gang member. Above all, cinephiles spin Carlito’s Way to inhale some of De Palma’s rich mise en scène.
Unlike Warner Bros. celebrating 100 years, Arrow Video does not skimp on opportunities for improving content. Physical media collectors will tell you that the company rivals The Criterion Collection when it comes to commentary inclusions, critic essays, and updated production videos. This Carlito’s Way offers substantial new special features preventing it from merely being a triple-dip from previous DVD and Blu-ray editions from Universal Pictures.
Right off the bat, the limited edition packaging is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It features a reversible sleeve of newly commissioned artwork from artist Tom Ralston the talented folks at Obviously Creative. Inside, Carlito’s Way contains seven double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions and an Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw and original production notes.
Inside, both the 4K UHD disc and the accompanying Blu-ray boast two brand new commentary tracks. The first comes from RogerEbert.com editor-at-large and film critic Matt Zoller Seitz and the second is a scene-specific commentary narrated by Dr. Douglas Keesey, the author of the biography Brian De Palma’s Split-Screen: A Life in Film. Seitz has long cited Carlito’s Way as a masterpiece and gushes over every creative shot in De Palma’s film.
Those two commentaries are the only special features on the main 4K UHD disc and are duplicated for the Blu-ray disc. The rest of the accompanying featurettes produced by Heather Buckley are organized and housed only on the Blu-ray disc. Altogether, there are three new interviews and two new featurettes to go with the original making-of documentary from the DVD and the repeated batch of deleted scenes, trailers, and production still image gallery.
In the interview menu, Arrow created a “Carlito and the Judge” conversation with source novelist Judge Edwin Torres. For him, Carlito’s Way was a fantasy come true to have his work go anywhere past a store’s bookshelf and star his all-time personal favorite actor Al Pacino. His memories from the set discuss the pushback he heard about the lack of matching ethnic casting.
After the Torres sit-down is a 15-minute double interview with editors Bill Pankow and Kristina Boden named “Cutting Carlito’s Way.” Both of the accomplished editors worked with De Palma before (Pankow on nine films and Boden on two) and were tuned to the director’s mode and process. The speak separately on their working relationship on the film and the hectic process of having two editors working against deadlines. United, their common search was for efficiency within the director’s vision.
The last interview segment on the Carlito’s Way 4K disc is a very short archival one with De Palma himself recorded in 2005. He shares his almost prophetic thoughts on the changes in filmmaking and the previous steps he took to getting this particular film made. It’s insightful, but terribly short at five minutes.
The interview section of the menu gives way to three unique featurettes, two of which are new to disc. The first is “De Palma’s Way,” an tribute by film critic David Edelstein reflecting on the director’s career coming off of three flops before Carlito’s Way and how his craft finally returned to shine in layer after layer. The second is a quick 3-minute video essay called “All the Stitches in the World: The Locations of Carlito’s Way” which merges side-by-side looks at some of the key filming locations from 1993 and how they look in 2023.
The last featurette and final components are carryovers from the original DVD. They include the studio-produced “The Making of Carlito’s Way,” a promotional featurette, and the usual deleted scenes, trailers, and image galleries. All of it counts as completionist icing in a good way. When it’s all said and done, the new 4K UHD edition from Arrow Video is an immersive and impressive package worthy of the splurge. This is absolute must for die-hard fans of Carlito’s Way, De Palma loyalists, and those who have long loved Arrow’s pristine treatment of their commissioned film selections.