Brian De Palma Month: “Scarface”

Today, we’re talking Scarface (1983), one of the most popular, most quoted, and most iconic American crime thrillers of all time.  This movie is considered by many as Brian De Palma’s best work.  After watching it, I can see why.  Some of the movies I am reviewing for “De Palma Month” are first-viewings, and some are rewatches.  In the case of the movie that inspired me to do this series (which I’ll review later) and Scarface, this is a first time viewing.  Let me tell you, when it comes to exceptional artists like Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick, and Quentin Tarantino, the first viewing is always the best.  They are so creative with their visuals/storytelling that your eyes are glued to the screen and every scene builds upon the next.  When the end credits appear, only one word escapes your mouth, “Wow.”

Scarface is directed by Brian De Palma and written by Oliver Stone.  Stars-Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.  Premise-Cuban immigrant Tony Montana (Pacino) and his friend Manny (Bauer) work their way up the ladder in a 1980s Miami drug cartel.

Before I continue, this is technically a remake of the 1932 Scarface directed by Howard Hawkes.  I haven’t seen that one (I didn’t even know it existed until “This movie is dedicated to Howard Hawkes” showed up at the end of De Palma’s film), but I don’t think it makes much of a difference with this remake.

The first thing most people think of when they hear “Scarface,” is Al Pacino’s performance (considered to be one of his best in a career filled with powerhouse roles).  What did I think of him?  He’s fine.  I can see his energy in every scene, he never breaks accent, and he delivers his lines like a bad***.  He does get a little over-the-top at the end, but then again, every performance (with the exception of Pfeiffer, who is deadpan most of the time) in this movie is over-the-top.  I like this because the whole style of the movie is crazy, loud, and dramatic.  In fact, the style of this movie is the best thing about it.  Oliver Stone’s dialogue is very aggressive, the cinematography is wild, and the score is edgy.  Actually, “Push it to the Limit” (written by Gorgio Moroder/Pete Bellotte and performed by Paul Engemann) encompasses the tone of this movie.  The song plays during the montage scene (when Tony is making it big with his drug deals, and begins living lavishly).  This song is intense as heck, and should have been Oscar-nominated because it fits so well with Tony’s character.

My dad brought up something interesting while I was watching this; he said it was “Shakespearian”.  Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in this playwright’s works, but I can see the similarities.  Without giving away too much, the protagonist succumbs to substance abuse, pride, and greed.  Montana started out as an average criminal with a strict set of rules, but when his overconfidence gets to him, he makes mistakes that come back to haunt him.  While he thinks everything he does is the correct thing to do (in his own, drug-clouded, twisted logic), everything he once cared for turns against him, and his response only make it worse.  Only when it is too late does he realize his errors.  Even the way his character arc wraps up is similar to that of Toshirô Mifune in Throne of Blood (an adaption of Shakespeare’s play).

By now it would seem like I love this movie more than life itself, not even close.  For me, I did not connect with this movie.  Tony Montana is an entertaining antihero, but when things go wrong, I wasn’t as invested as the movie wanted me to be.  Also, it is 2 hours and 50 minutes long and there are definitely some characters and scenes that could be cut.  All things considered, this movie is still a fun ride with iconic performances, which alone makes it worth the watch.  Scarface (1983) gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.


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