"Scarface" was a great operatic film rooted in Greek tragedy, primarily the downfall of its protagonist related to his own hubris and pride. Its over-the-top theatrics and scenery-chewing acting complemented the absurdist tone of the film; some carping critics complained it was "too violent," but it was silly violence...and it worked.
"Carlito's Way" is considered by many to be a companion piece of sorts to "Scarface" - but in its own ways it is vastly different. As "Good Fellas
" differed a great deal from "Casino" in its narrative methods, "Carlito's Way" isn't as broad and theatrical as "Scarface." Of course, it's still a De Palma
film, and that means we get some beautiful set pieces - but for the most part De Palma
avoids his excessive visuals and instead opts for a balanced mixture of both storyline and directorial flair. It is not a sequel to "Scarface" - it is an expansion, and it seems entirely apt that its narrative is more mature, considering that Carlito Brigante (the main character) is wiser than Tony Montana from "Scarface." Carlito is a Puerto Rican ex-con who gets out of a thirty-year jail sentence based on a technicality after serving a mere five years of sentence. Faced with a new life and fresh horizons, he decides to heed the lessons he learned in jail and embark on a new and honest lifestyle.
"Scarface" was Greek tragedy insofar as Tony Montana was doomed to a downfall based on his own egotism and stubbornness. Like Oedipus in Sophocles' classic story, Montana was too bull-headed to take the advice of his wife and friends and was entirely responsible for his own emotional (and, in "Scarface's" case, physical) demise.
"Carlito's Way" is the flip side of the coin. It's still Greek tragedy, but it offers a new perspective. This time, the protagonist tries to change his fate, but his life is doomed to its inevitable conclusion. Carlito tries to change his ways, but - to paraphrase a character from another film - there is only one guarantee...Carlito Brigante will never see heaven. That's the fundamental truth of this movie, and De Palma
's less showy camera-work, and the more mature characterizations by the actors, and the believable script, ensure that "Carlito's Way" is an entirely human experience - far more so than "Scarface."