I recently left the AMC Tysons Corner Movie Theater slightly nauseated.

I had just been thoroughly entertained by The Expendables, a film predicated entirely on the notion that if one shoots something more than three times (regardless of what it’s made of), it will explode. Although gripping in an in-the-moment sort of way, this kind of sloppy, one-sided entertainment always makes me think of films that are just as cool visually as they are intelligently written.

The first one that comes to mind is Brian de Palma’s 1993 masterpiece Carlito’s Way.

In this brilliantly written crime thriller, Al Pacino plays a reformed Puerto Rican crime boss on the road to redemption.

Pacino is known for his legendary performance as the sociopathic gang lord Tony Montana in Scarface, but he shows a different side of the gangster in Carlito’s Way.

The role of Carlito Brigante is more complex; he is caught between his old life of easily made drug money and his newly found path of righteousness. His ultimate goal is to escape to a tropical beach and buy into a rental car business with an old friend, but he must battle his past as he tries to redeem himself and leave criminality behind him. His situation is further complicated by the re-introduction of an old flame.

Pacino’s excellent performance, coupled with a masterful script, leaves little to be desired.

The cinematography is also worth mentioning. There are a number of breathtaking scenes that use depth and color to provoke emotion and feeling. De Palma does a skillful job mirroring the chaos of, say, a firefight with hectic camera movement, but his creative cinematography never gets over the top.

Overall the film is absolutely worth watching. It manages to reconcile a guys’ night-type shoot ‘em up with an award-winning think piece.