5.26.2016

Metteur en scène

Canted angles (I): Sean Penn and Al Pacino on the boat.
 
Fun fact: Cahiers du Cinema named Brian de Palma’s Carlito’s Way (1993) the best film of the 1990s, ranking it higher than Eyes Wide Shut, Close-Up, Unforgiven, Crash, and Twin Peaks (which apparently was counted as a movie).  I can only imagine that the film’s appeal to French critics must be, at least in part, the result of a beneficent loss in translation; like so many of de Palma’s films it’s an unabashed genre exercise, a gangster movie, and at the level of its plot and dialogue it’s pretty standard fare.  (Al Pacino’s performance, meanwhile, is somewhere between a tour de force and a travesty.)  I can only imagine that what the Cahiers critics were responding to was the virtuosity of de Palma’s camera.  The tracking shots in Carlito are relentless, dizzying, sometimes ostentatious and unnecessary, and never not ballsy.  Carlito finds de Palma taking every opportunity to indulge his weakness for canted angles, sometimes to the point of literally turning the camera upside-down, and it culminates in a bravura set piece/chase through  Grand Central Station.  Carlito’s Way doesn’t have the sinuous elegance of an earlier film like Dressed to Kill, nor is it half as cleverly written, but it does find de Palma pushing his camera to the very limits of its expression—and that’s something.

Canted angles (II): Pacino, Penelope Ann Miller, and James Rebhorn in the office.
 

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