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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Carlito’s Way 4K UHD Review

Arrow Video

4K UHD Release: September 26, 2023

Video: 2.35:1/2160p (HDR10/Dolby Vision)/Color

Audio: English DTS:X; English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 144:03

Director: Brian De Palma

Gangster Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) gets released early from prison, thanks to the work of his lawyer, Kleinfeld (Sean Penn). 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). With enemies closing in from all sides, Carlito must find his way before it's too late. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Originally known for quirky comedies, Hitchcock-like thrillers, and a couple of telekinetic horror films, Brian De Palma joined contemporary Francis Ford Coppola in the ranks of the American gangster movie royalty in 1983 with his loose remake of Howard Hawke’s Scarface (1932). Initially unloved by critics and a slight box office disappointment, De Palma’s Scarface grew into a cult favorite and, eventually, a perennial home video hit for Universal. His next shot at gangster cinema was Wise Guys (1986), was critically hated and a flop and hasn’t been lovingly reevaluated, but he followed it up directly with The Untouchables (1987), which was a hit and remains beloved. Often overshadowed by his ‘80s crime output and overlooked due to so-so box office, but possibly the best of the bunch is De Palma’s fourth gangster picture, Carlito’s Way (1993).

Carlito’s Way often seems to have been designed as a follow-up (not sequel) to Scarface, highlighted by the fact that it reunited De Palma with star Al Pacino, who is doing another borderline culturally insensitive Latin accent. Pacino aside, the themes are so intrinsically locked that it’s hard to discuss one without bringing up the other. Scarface is a cartoon version of a crime epic, built on excess and borderline spoof, and not particularly interested in genuine drama or anything approaching realism. It’s a Technicolor party, swollen with over-the-top violence, larger-than-life personalities, and eye-watering ‘80s fashion. Carlito’s Way is the hangover, not in the sense that it feels bad or is incapable of having fun (De Palma is at his show-offy best during the climatic foot chase), but that it is focused on characters, drama, and grand tragedy. All the while, De Palma approaches the action like one of his thrillers with less explosive spectacle and more screw-twisting suspense.

No one but the filmmakers can say for sure that Carlito’s Way is a comment on Scarface in particular, but it’s major message of the inescapable sin tied to crime is certainly delivered with more pathos and earnestness than Scarface’s half-hearted satire of the 1932 film’s Hays-enforced moral finale. Carlito Brigante isn’t Tony Montana and David Koepp’s screenplay is based on a pair of novels by Edwin Torres Carlito’s Way (pub. 1975; also the basis for the STV prequel, Carlito's Way: Rise to Power [2005]) and After Hours (pub. 1979), but the context created by De Palma and Pacino’s participation has always implied, however unofficially, that Carlito is suffering for Tony’s sins. In turn, it also feels like De Palma is winking and nodding at his audience and punishing us for rooting for Tony in the first place. He does this not only by showing us the violent consequences of crime, minus the ‘blaze of glory’ death seen in Scarface, but also by burdening us with an utterly despicable anti-Tony Montana in the form of Sean Penn’s character, Kleinfeld, who makes crime and cocaine addiction look thoroughly uncool.


Carlito’s Way was easily found on VHS for rental and sale, as well as Laserdisc in 1994. It was an early non-anamorphic DVD for Universal, back in the format’s formative years (1998 to be exact). Anamorphic, special, and ultimate edition DVDs would follow, as would an HD DVD and Blu-ray in 2010. Universal produced the first 4K UHD in 2021 and, according to specs, it is the same transfer Arrow is using for their Limited Edition UHD, though there may be differences in authoring/compression. For a general idea as to the difference between the original BD and Universal’s UHD, see this caps-a-holic link. I’ve included caps from the included Blu-ray for illustrative purposes. There isn’t a lot else to say, because there aren’t many surprises. Carlito’s Way was treated well over the years, so it looks expectedly nice in 2160p. Details are tight, but rarely oversharpened, the HDR upgrade boosts the right ranges without blowing out whites or pooling blacks, and cinematographer Stephen H. Burum’s (who shot all of De Palma’s movies from 1984’s Body Double to 2000’s Mission to Mars) delicate color and shadow balance is well maintained.


Carlito’s Way is presented with DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and Master Audio 2.0 options. The film was released early into the digital era and Universal had premiered the DTS format with Spielberg’s Jurassic Park earlier in 1993, so it’s possible that there was an original, director approved 5.1 mix, but I assume that most theaters showed it in Dolby Stereo 2.0. Remixed or not, the 5.1 and X mixes aren’t overdone and don’t sound unnaturally modern for an early ‘90s release. There are plenty of directional cues during the shoot-outs and the surround channels get a nice workout during the dance club sequences and other crowd shots. Patrick Doyle’s score, which combines lyrical strings and bouncy, jazzy horns, is another interesting contrast to Scarface and Giorgio Moroder’s groundbreaking electronic music. The score works in concert (no pun intended) with diegetic club music and classical cues (usually the loudest elements outside of dialogue) to set the mood.


Disc 1 (4K UHD)

  • Commentary with Matt Zoller Seitz – In the first of two Arrow exclusive commentary tracks, the author of The Wes Anderson Collection (Abrams Books, 2013) and The Soprano Sessions (Abrams Press, 2019) sticks relatively close to a screen-specific discussion while talking about the greater careers of De Palma, Torres, and the cast, De Palma’s style and technique, how Carlito’s Way fits with his other films, and the ways the film plays with the noir, crime, and western genres. He gets caught up in just watching the movie a couple of times, but it’s still an informative track.

  • Commentary with Dr. Douglas Keesey – The second brand new track is with the author of Brian De Palma's Split-Screen: A Life in Film (University Press of Mississippi, 2015), who covers a lot of the same ground (the both describe the major set-pieces shot-by-shot, for example), but from a different enough point-of-view to make it probably worthwhile for fans to listening to both tracks. Keesey is slightly more focused on the film’s themes, Torres’ books, and De Palma’s use of stereotypes and clichés. He also gets caught up in watching the film, unfortunately.

Disc 2 (Blu-ray)

  • Commentary with Matt Zoller Seitz

  • Commentary with Dr. Douglas Keesey

  • Carlito and the Judge (12:32, HD) – Author and former New York State Supreme Court judge Edwin Torres chats about becoming a writer, the success of the books, the real people that Carlito is based on, persuading De Palma to cast Luis Guzmán, being confronted on set by fellow Puerto Ricans for letting Italian Pacino play the lead, working with the cast, convincing Pacino to get a haircut (on behalf of De Palma), and learning to like the film after seeing it with an audience.

  • Cutting Carlito's Way (17:22, HD) – Editors Bill Pankow and Kristina Boden recall working with De Palma on Carlito’s Way and other films, De Palma’s process, the need for two editors, and the ins & outs of editing on a short timeline.

  • De Palma on Carlito's Way (5:28, SD) – A short archival interview with De Palma from the 2005 DVD release.

  • De Palma's Way (17:33, HD) – David Edelstein, the film critic and, sigh, the guy that coined the regressive, generally useless term “torture porn,” looks back on De Palma’s career and his techniques, specifically exploring Carlito’s Way’s set-pieces, stylistic changes between the film’s noir and romantic sequences, Koepp’s adaptation, and the major performances. He also calls it a better aging gangster downfall film than Godfather Part III (1990) and, well, no argument there.

  • All the Stitches in the World: The Locations of Carlito's Way (2:59, HD) – A 2023 location visit.

  • The Making of Carlito's Way (34:36, SD) – A decent making-of featurette taken from the 2005 DVD that includes filmmaker commentaries and behind-the-scenes footage.

  • 1993 promotional featurette (5:13, SD)

  • Nine deleted scenes (8:18, SD)

  • Teaser and theatrical trailers

  • Image gallery

The images on this page are taken from the included Blu-ray copy – NOT the 4K UHD – and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.



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