In the 60's, the Puerto Rican Carlito Brigante, the Afro-American Earl and the Italian Rocco become best friends while in prison. When they are released, Rocco intermediates a heroin business with a family of the Italian Mafia leaded by Artie Badalato Sr. Carlito negotiates with the lord Leroy "Hollywood Nicky" Barnes the area where the trio could operate in his neighborhood and sooner the three friends become powerful. Later, Carlito dates and has an affair with the beautiful Leticia. When Earl decides to move to Barbados with his girlfriend and leave the heroin business, his stupid younger brother causes a situation with the Italian mobsters, and Carlito and Rocco have to resolve the mess to save their lives. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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Sooner or later, a thug will tell his tale. We all want to go on record. So let's hear it for all the hoods. The Jews out of Brownsville, the blacks on Lennox Avenue, the Italians from Mulberry Street, the Irish in Hell's Kitchen. Like that. Meanwhile, Puerto Rican's been getting jammed since the fortys, and ain't nobody said nothing. Well, I'm gonna lay it on you one time, for the record. My people. They hit New York and filed into the roach stables in Spanish Harlem and the South...
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American director Brian De Palma's best known work is probably the 1983 crime epic Scarface starring Al Pacino, but its thematic companion piece Carlito's Way (1993) has plenty of fans too. Of course, eventually a prequel was produced for the latter, chronicling the eponymous Carlito's initial rise to the status he wishes to relinquish in the original film.
At the beginning in the 1960s, Puerto Rican hoodlum Carlito Brigante (Jay Hernandez) is doing time for petty crimes when he meets two incarcerated criminal bosses in the prison. With the black Earl (Mario Van Peebles) and the Italian Rocco (Michael Kelly), Carlito sets up a drug trading business in Harlem, New York, upsetting the delicate situation between the rivaling ethnic groups controlling the area's criminal activities. The main rivals being an Italian family the Bottolotas and the empire led by a suave black gangster boss named Hollywood Nicky (Sean Combs), Carlito and his associates find their place between the two opposites, doing favours for both whenever necessary. His wealth increases and he starts a relationship with a girl named Leticia (Jaclyn DeSantis), but the gangster lifestyle is not without its hazards.
Despite the change of director and lead actor, the expected elements of an urban gangster tale are all there: self-confident, hotheaded thugs, badass crime lords, honour codes, bloody vendettas... Even though I miss De Palma's touch with long takes and big chase scenes, I think director Bregman handles the storytelling decently, if less memorably. The colourful lighting in the atmospheric nightclubs is as good-looking as in the first movie and the authentic New York exterior locations always provide a great backdrop for the scenes of tough street life. Making the 1960s setting more evident could have added a nice touch to the whole though.
Since we already know the conclusion of Carlito Brigante's story from the first movie, the prequel does not feel the need to examine his actions from a moral point of view very much. Perhaps for the same reason character development has been left rather faint too, even though the story superficially tries to provide different sides to Carlito's personality, such as romantic, brotherly and ruthless. Jay Hernandez may not be as charismatic as Al Pacino, but I don't have major complaints about his acting, or almost anyone else's for that matter. Mario Van Peebles delivers one of the best performances in the movie, as does the always good Luis Guzmán as a hit-man Nacho Reyes, a role different from what he played in the first film. Sean 'Diddy' Combs' role as Hollywood Nicky remains pretty forgettable though, partly due to the way the character has been written, partly to Combs' emotionless 'cool' appearance.
For a straight-to-DVD movie Carlito's Way: Rise to Power succeeds far better than could be expected. It doesn't present anything new within its genre or provide interesting ponderings about the morals of crime, but I find it to be a perfectly watchable gangster flick. Though smaller in scale than the first film, Rise to Power can nevertheless be recommended (with some reservations) to fans of the Brigante saga.
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