Carlito’s Way 1994 *****


Perhaps it’s not as iconic as The Untouchables, but Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Edwin Torres’s book is a cracking crime drama that shows commendable restraint. Al Pacino is Carlito, who emerges from prison determined to go straight, despite his lawyer Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) being a coke-snorting shambles. Carlito starts up his own nightclub, always a good way to avoid criminal temptation, and kicks things off romantically with dancer Gail (Penelope Ann Miller). While the set pieces are memorable, including a pool-room shoot out and the epic finale in Grand Central Station, Carlito’s Way has a vice-like grasp of its central characters that never lets up, and engagement is high throughout. Reviews were rather tepid at the time, but De Palma’s thriller is a great Saturday night popcorn film, big stars, big performances, and an exciting, involving story. Pacino and Penn are both great here, giving proper perfoamnces that don’t bear the traces of excess that both men have indulged elsewhere. The story is bookended with a flash-forward to the final scene, which is a classic trope, but deflects the tension and the power; if you can find someone that hasn’t seen it, skip the opening scene and Carlito’s Way is a blast.


Phil Spector 2013 ***


Only David Mamet would be so deliberately obtuse as to make a feature-length film about a famous trial and halt the action before the trial even starts; the great playwrights focus is on something other than courtroom melodrama in this television drama about the trail of Phil Spector. Played by Al Pacino in a variety of ever-more outrageous wigs, Mamet positions the notorious producer as a man out of time, ranting and raving about the injustices of the music industry while somehow unaware of the bigger picture of his impending conviction for the murder of Lana Clarkson. Pacino is on top form, matched every inch of the way by Helen Mirren as attorney Linda Kenney Baden, who puts aside her own drowsiness with the flu to consider whether Spector has a case to defend. Mamet balances trail by jury with trial by media, and uncovers some outlandish facts, including the reasons for Spector’s bizarre wigs in this wordy by fascinating production.

Looking For Richard 1996 ***


Al Pacino’s passion project is a welcome insight into the actor himself, and specifically his passion for Shakespeare’s Richard III. Annoying as it was to see Pacino riffing on Adam Sandler vehicle Jack and Jill by ripping scenes from The Godfather, placing it in the context of a performance of Richard II at least gives a specific context; for a method actor, Pacino has an endearing willingness to send himself up. Looking for Richard alternates his thoughts on the modern day relevance of the play with scenes from an incomplete version of the play. With Pacino as the king, Alec Baldwin as the Duke of Clarence, Winona Ryder as Lady Anne and Kevin Spacey a perfect Earl of Buckingham, the results are surprisingly good, and enough to make it regrettable that Pacino didn’t go the whole hog. His interviews with British actors suggest the American actor felt that the play’s Britishness would prevent him from doing a definitive version, but Looking For Richard suggests Pacino would still have the chops for it.