Movie Review #894


Premiered in New York City, New York on December 1, 1983. Nationwide release on December 9, 1983. Crime/Drama. This film is rated R. Rated X before appeal. Runs 170 minutes. American production. Director: Brian De Palma. Screenplay: Oliver Stone. Cast: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia, Miriam Colon, F. Murray Abraham, Paul Shenar, and Harris Yulin.


By Alexander Diminiano

It seems like the most common misconception about “Scarface” is that it’s a gangster movie. It’s worth pointing out that Tony Montana, the antihero who is taken off the page into a whole new dimension by Al Pacino’s performance, seems to have some sort of posse in the movie. But it’s not a gang. An easy way to put it is that they’re in a position of authority, but Montana is the totalitarian leader–authority schmauthority, because all they can do in their power is really to carry out his orders.

Montana is a childlike, spontaneous, self-pious, ruthless, and, in all those ways, vengeful human being. He’s no more a priest than he is a gangster. He’s simply a very angry man who has come to America, a political refugee from Cuba during Fidel Castro’s early presidency. No doubt, he is a criminal, whose surprising claim is that he’s never been to jail more than once. He’s brought two kilos of cocaine into the States, he reveals an adoration for firing automatic weapons at people even when he has no motive for doing so, and he finds himself suited in the business of producing counterfeit money. He’s a criminal, and he’s a really, really angry boy, but a boy is in fact all this man is. He’s in love with crime happening as he sees it, but he’s way too sophomoric to handle any organized crime. As if I couldn’t be any more redundant, he is not a gangster.

The one issue that kills Tony Montana as a character is character development. His story matches Al Pacino’s rise to the top as Michael Corleone, 11 years before taking on this role. Except Corleone could retain his anger and closed-mindedness without coming off as a child. Montana grows weaker as his arrogance grows. It ruins the final moments of the film. We get “Say hello to my little friend!”, inarguably one of the greatest, most awesome moments in movie history, but that’s followed flatly with Montana’s arrogance reaching a peak. It makes for an utterly dumb finale anywhere after the immortal line.

It’s rather hard to imagine “Scarface” as being in any other era than the early ’80s. The movie is engrossing mainly due to its performances–Pacino, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Michelle Pfeiffer being the great triumvirate here–as well as the political context. Oliver Stone’s screenplay is juvenalian satire on both the administrations Fidel Castro in Cuba and Jimmy Carter in the United States. Montana can be looked at as a man who escaped Castro only to, in some sense, become Castro. Not only is he the totalitarian figure to his posse, he sees himself as the power over everyone he lays eyes upon, with the ability to either shoot or give orders.

Not only was “Scarface” written by Oliver Stone, it was directed by Brian De Palma. Things get pretty violent.

This is an entertaining movie. Showy, no doubt, with its unexpected ’80s synthpop soundtrack, and on top of that, Giorgio Moroder’s typical score, but it all seems to complement the relevance of the satire to that time period. I guess you could also call the constant presence of AK-47s showy, though. It makes ars gratia artis out to be violentia gratia violentiae.

“Scarface” appears to lack substance, but more so toward the beginning of the movie. At around an hour and forty minutes, it splits nicely into two parts. Part one is all right, and part two grows continually more interesting.


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