Scarface - Excessive And Violent Just Like The People It's Depicting

                      Any list of classic movies for men would be incomplete without an appearance from Brian De Palma's "Scarface." The film gives life to one of the most ruthless characters in movie history, Cuban refugee, Tony Montana. Scarface is an powerful story about greed, loyalty, triumph, tragedy, and guns. Oh yeah, lots and lots of guns.

                    Scarface, an remake of the 1932 classic, is stylish and may be the most vicious film about the American underworld like Coppola's "Godfather." But, in almost every ways the two films are totally different. Coppola's Godfather worked on our emotions in unexpected ways discovering the loves and loyalties that operated within one old Mafia don's family. Whereas Palma's Scarface is a relentlessly bitter, satirical tale of greed, in which all supposedly decent emotions are sent up for the possible ways in which they can be perverted. 

                    The image of the gangster is appealing because he challenges the myth of the middle-class work ethic, which demands long hours, sacrifice, and taking orders from superior in order to achieve financial and social success. In gangster films, this work ethic is mocked as foolish, such as when Tony Montana, after rejecting his job as a dishwasher in favor of working  for a drug dealer explains, "I didn't come to this country to break my back." The movie and the culture it depicts is the very definition of excess, which is perhaps why it has persisted so long as a cultural emblem.

        Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is a small-time Cuban punk, one of supposedly hundreds among the 125,000 or so legitimate refugees that the Castro Government allowed to immigrate to Florida in the spring of 1980. He has hopes of claiming his own piece of the American Dream. But the life isn't so great for Tony and his best friend Manny Ribero (Steven Bauer) once they reach American soil. So, they soon enter the world of crime. They murder a political refugee for drug dealer Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia) to get their way and are soon on his payroll.

              Despite Frank’s power, Tony quickly views him to be “soft” and quietly undermines his authority, eventually seizing Frank’s business as well as his icy girlfriend Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer), although Tony’s real sexual passion seems to be directed at his younger sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). After a bad business deal and an argument over Elvira, Lopez attempts to have Tony killed. However, Tony eliminates Lopez, and becomes the most powerful drug lord in Florida.

               Once at the top, the real problems begin. Manny is secretly dating Gina. Elivira has progressively become a zombie-like drug addict, and Tony's money is not earning the interest it should be. Furthermore, Tony himself has become selfish, paranoid, and addict to his own “good stuff.”

                Al Pacino's Tony Montana is the driving force of the movie, the one character, he is a famous for -- more so even than Michael Corleone. Pacino goes way over the top, and that pretty well describes the arc of his character and his performance. He's snorting coke hysterically and scaring everyone out of his life. Bored and impatient, he doesn't even notice how successful he's become. As you can see, Tony Montana isn't a simple man. He's so messed up and complicated that it's hard to see him as just a character in a movie, and Pacino is so convincing that you almost forget that it's fiction. 

                The supporting characters are superb as well, led by Bauer and Pfeiffer. They are flawless in their respective roles, representing Tony's defective support system, but Pfeiffer is especially spectacular as the callous Elvira. Robert Loggia as Frank Lopez shines well in his role, despite the extreme competition all around him. Loggia etches a funny and, poignant portrait of a man who has outlived his own effectiveness in a violent career. 
                Not surprisingly, Scarface courted controversy at every turn, especially with the MPAA ratings board, which originally rated the film X for its pervasive language and graphic violence. With more than 200 utterances of the f-word and its various derivatives, shots of Pacino literally inhaling piles of cocaine, Scarface in 1983 became a kind of litmus test for just how far a mainstream movie could go. It was a studio film and was eventually awarded R-rating, but only after De Palma cut a single close-up from the chainsaw sequence. 

               Director Brian De Palma, benefiting from fifty years of gangster films following 1932's Scarface, is aware of the conventions in which he is working and understands that Tony Montana, living in the 1980s, will be a different kind of gangster than his 1930s predecessor. De Palma takes ten minutes shy of three hours to tell a story that took the 1932 version 90 minutes to cover. But, you will never find it boring. Brian De Palma was also fortunate to have talented John A. Alonzo as his director of photography. Alonzo's talents were very useful in those scenes in which expensive and flashy clothes, cars, houses and beautiful women strike powerful contrast with the ultimately dark subject and plot of the film.

              Oliver Stone's presence as Screen writer is evident in his sense of political indignation, and in the way he portrays the American dream, which, according to this film, is more about greed, lies and corruption than hard work. He also claim that Fidel Castro sent thousands and thousands of his convicts to America in 1980 to take revenge. I'm not sure that it's true, but I just think it's a pure Oliver Stone touch. 

               For Tony Montana, the "American Dream" is defined by owning-expensive clothing, a mansion, a tiger, and most importantly, his boss' woman. Like her predecessor, Elvira alternately sees Tony as a low class peasant. Even after they are married and extremely wealthy, Elvira is critical of Tony's obsession with money and their decadent home. Apparently money has not bought Tony any taste and Elvira tells him, "Nothing exceeds like excess." Tony Montana therefore comes to see that financial success, whether earned by the drug lord or the banker, has boiled down to the mere consumption of food, liquor, sex, and drugs. 

               Truly great films endure because they appeal to past, present and future generations, and this one is no different. So, Scarface is an important vehicle for understanding the ever-changing conceptions of "America," the American dream, illegal drugs, and the criminal. This Al Pacino masterpiece still continues to thrive because of its exceptional performances, gripping storyline and compelling script. Scarface is an undeniably effective, visceral masterpiece.


Scarface - IMDb


Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Truly Fantastic Review! Scarface is indeed violent, excessive and equally remarkable. Al Pacino is at the top of his game as he lives through the role of Tony Montana--The modern-day Macbeth. There are a couple of scenes in the movie that really upset me: the ones involving his tussle with his brother in law and his sister. However, I doubt that Tony's possessive love for his kid sister had any sexual origins, but it's something that will always be open to speculation (because of how Tony reacts at different junctures in the movie) :-P

Raghav said...

Great review and one of the all time classics.

Deepz said...

Brilliant review! I found it very interesting..

Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

Such a brilliant blast from the past. One movie that certainly superseded my expectations and remains as one of the best from Palma. Great review and by the way have you watched Travolta's 'Blow Out'?

Arun Kumar said...

@Murtaza Ali, Thank you very much for the comment. And, yeah Tony's possessive love for his sister s open to speculation.

@Raghav, Thanks for the comment.

Arun Kumar said...

@Deepz, Thanks for the comment. Keep visiting.

@Haricharan, Thanks for the comment. Yeah, i have seen "Blow Out." A Hitchcockian-style thriller with a great performance from John Travolta.

Ruchi S said...

You are fast becoming my source of DVD expense!
I love your choice of films..
Are you by any chance into the Indian versions of classics and cults? I have a huge collection of Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal - of course I watch their originals with subtitles.

Arun Kumar said...

@Ruchi, Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I have watched some Indian classics, especially Bengali films from Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak. But, I couldn't access most of their movies, because Dvd's are not available. Will surely write posts on some of our Indian classics in the future.

Jen..The Butterfly Effect said...

Gee,how come I never watch any movie you list here!! I'm more of a masala movie watcher! ;) Typical Indian I am,I believe! :D

Great review however ;)