Scarface (1983)

Scarface (1983)
  • Time: 170 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama
  • Director: Brian De Palma
  • Cast: Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, Steven Bauer


When Castro opened the port at Mariel Harbor, thousands of Cubans fled to the United States. One is a young tough named Antonio (Tony) Montana, who, with his friend Manny Ray, starts in with Miami’s cocaine trade. He survives attack by chainsaw after a deal goes bad, and several other attempts by other dealers to eliminate him. Eventually the grandiose Montana becomes head of a cocaine cartel. But his enemies start coming after him, and his paranoia threatens to drive Montana’s empire into the ground…


  • (Rating: 3+ / 5)

    Sometimes, the mere fact of entertaining is enough. This is what happens with “Scarface” (1983 ): hugely entertaining and enjoyable, but nor think is the masterpiece which all shout. In its premiere, received enormous negative reviews, but as often happens with many works, and as Tommy Duncan said, “Time changes everything”. That axiom enthusiastically applied in the film, growing over the years to become a cult. The famous double DVD edition marked the success that it was not its first release. Everyone love the movie; Why not ? people crying: Tony Montana; mountains of drugs is what people crave to see, that fantasy and metaphor of the American Dream is what everyone wants to look

    But if you momentarily abstracts of that universe, “Scarface” has a facile and affected loading, that hardly combine with the less exhibitionist reality of drug trafficking. It’s “Alice in the Wonderland”, but Heroin and money version. Part of facility moves to aesthetics, a catalog of eccentricities invading. A soundtrack hyper-saturated of sensationalism stylization (the songs “Vamos a Bailar”; “She’s On Fire”; “Push It On The Limit”), exotic and flashy suits, Cadillacs, mountains of cocaine, the “king” chair of Montana, etc. Blood, black and the white of the drugs are the three primary colors of the film, like a mafia cartoon at its best. Maybe the real problem is the movie length: if the movie was shorter, would win more precision, but nearly three hours where there are many good scenes but easily editable, so there are too much excess. Tony Montana fighting alone at the end of the film WITH ONLY A HANDFUL OF HELPERS is an excess, demagoguery of the script to boost the protagonist as hero or martyr

    Oliver Stone’s script for Al Pacino’s version takes some elements of the 1932 version eg the obsession with sister, the murder of the husband of this sister, the phrase “The World Is Yours”, the betrayal of Tony’s boss, etc. Oliver Stone’s problem is: transfers certain customs and details in a movie that strongly develops interpersonal relationships: in “Scarface” (1983) his sister’s husband is a close friend of Montana, so the murder was nonsense. In the 1932 version, the husband was more a bully in the service of Tony. In addition, this 1932 film, obsession to his sister could be understood as the custom of those times where the role of women was too restricted, while in the 1983 production is a bit contradictory: as liberal and anti-communist as Tony Montana is so strict with Gina. In Scarface 1932, Tony Camonte was a coward which only had courage when he had a weapon, and that assumption is proved at the end of the film. In the 1983 version, Tony Montana is portrayed as a brave, intelligent and arrogant individual; but yet at the end of the film when he goes to kill Sosa’s soldiers, this attitude is not so much like a super criminal individual, but of a vulgar and desperate man taking his last measure for not die

    Tony Montana is arrogant, says phrases for a poster, he does not care about human life and makes apologist of guns. The problem is not that (ultimately all heroes like Terminator or McClaine do), but “Scarface” has two serious problems: one is Brian De Palma , who is unable to moderate the behavior of Al Pacino. Pacino is a great actor, but when he overreacts becomes a parody, and that excess is what happens with “Scarface” (1983). But actually the problem of Pacino would not be so terrible if the script did not makes a second fatal mistake. The real problem lethal in “Scarface” 1983 is: Stone tries to inject a tragedy where there is none. When an overwhelming person like Montana appears, is necessary to write a good core to his character, and so prepare him for the tragedy. The story of Tony Montana should be similar to that of a monster and a sinister sociopath, but the final quality offered by Al Pacino, De Palma and Oliver Stone is a “bad guy” who takes drugs to exhaustion (Al Pacino’s nose is tainted with cocaine, one of the least subtle scenes of the movie about a man addicted to drugs) and is thought “cool” in top of the world. Since there is no real tragedy (even the end of the film is very “cool” instead tragic, with the bullets that pass through it but he feels nothing because the drugs effects, and the final shotgun. The law does not appears here) Tony Montana is a caricature of a gangster, an entertaining cartoon but filled with psychology of poor quality (melodramatic quality; eg the rule “not kill children”, excerpted from “The Godfather” but here degraded as a script device last minute that will mark the death of the protagonist, and public approval for the violent ending). Montana is a character too much theatrical and noisy, he lacks the modesty of the original version and his hyper-violence is too glorified as a hero

    The film has good things: is really very entertaining, the “Tony’s theme” is a good song, and the chainsaw scene is memorable (shows nothing; and Pacino acts very well here, having a sense of horror). But also some nonsense: everybody seem intoxicated by the power of Montana, without anyone warn themselves about the absence of authenticity and the consequences (eg, when Montana hires Lopez henchman, “Do you want a job?”: apparently, is quite “normal” after a murder in your noses, you can change job and join the murderer. Also, Elvira does not offers too much resistance to stay with Tony). The story about his own sister and Elvira are sitcom filler, and about Elvira there is no consistent development in the romance (neither Pacino and Pfeiffer have great chemistry and love each other), plus she lacks a conclusive termination (disappears in the film). No featured remarkable villains in “Scarface”: many little-known and cheap actors (eg Robert Loggia, this actor will also play silly dialogues such a mobster rules). Cuban accent in most actors is laughable and dilutes the quality. Is also incomprehensible that both Lopez and Tony Montana himself are alone at the time of their deaths (are supposed to be billionaires in drug trafficking, living in giant mansions, and in constant surveillance. Why not have an army to their name? Pablo Escobar would be turning in his grave if he sees Tony Montana and Lopez incompetence). Ditto for the scene where Sosa asks the protagonist for help to kill the journalist, as if there were not more people for help, which is a common mistake in the movies where they act as if in the planet is habited only the main cast. And it’s just a very long film where De Palma at least could have deleted the first part (Tony’s arrival to the United States, his quarantine and the murder of the ex-communist ally of Castro, the contact with the colombian traffickers), which would not be bad if the many situations exposed did not give feet for the swagger of Montana . Even the chainsaw sequence seems emotionally disconnected with the rest of the movie (Tony Montaña does not appear to have suffered the loss of his partner and does not evolve. In “The Godfather”, Luca Brasi’s death mobilizes the Corleone family to force to play in other ways and make decisions). Nevertheless, the major errors that make “Scarface” (1983) a nightmare for many critics are: a demagogic flashy aesthetic, a demagogic script, and Brain De Palma / Oliver Stone themselves, instead of doing their job (deliver a consistent tragedy for Tony Montana, and moderate to Al Pacino), amplified the excesses as larger than life. But all this is too much (It is much more a fantastic show about the American dream, not a critique of the American Dream; is more a very good action film than a realistic reflection of the drug mafia as people think), perhaps because of the length of the film, this is an excess of Pop psychology disguised as high tragedy (is easy to see how bad it is all this: quite obvious that the film belongs to the 80’s, is a typical exploitation of the 70s / 80s).

  • Scarface is Brian De Palma’s loose remake of the classic gangster picture of the same name by Howard Hawks. Instead of Chicago in which the latter is set, De Palma’s film is set in Miami, giving it a timely relevance during the early eighties. During that time, there was an influx of illegal immigrants (many of them Cubans) into America, especially into Miami. Tony Montana is one of them, a fictional character created by screenwriter Oliver Stone (the Oscar-winning director of Platoon (1986) and JFK (1991)).

    Scarface follows Montana (Al Pacino) as he rises to power to become one of the country’s most wealthiest and ruthless gangsters. He makes money through a lucrative business in drugs. Not surprisingly, he snorts cocaine himself. He is greedy, arrogant, and lusts over his boss’ girl, Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer). In the middle of his huge mansion, there lies a sculpture with a ball on top with the words “The World Is Yours” emblazoned.

    The irony of those words are laid out in bare in the final sequence, perhaps Scarface’s most (notoriously) famous one – a bloody shootout in which Montana wields a huge weapon and attempts to gun down intruders to his house. De Palma’s film is very violent, and in an early scene, a chainsaw is used to torture a victim. This scene shows the director at his skillful best, using quick editing and indirect framing to suggest the gruesomeness of the act rather than through direct means. This makes it so much more stomach-churning.

    Scarface has somewhat become a cult classic over the years, but truth be told, it is a pretentious film. It is, in my opinion, a B-grade gangster picture dressed up as an Oscar contender. It is a campy experience, does not take itself seriously (to its detriment), and will probably get worse on subsequent viewings. The electronic score by Giorgio Moroder is absolutely appalling; it is dull, lacking in substance, and is a mismatch for a film with such a heavy subject matter.

    Al Pacino’s performance is bad in a good way. He puts on a Cuban accent and exaggerates his acting that it becomes unintentionally funny. Montana turns into a caricature of sorts, like a cartoon character in an animated comedy. One could praise Pacino for elevating a sub-par film to something borderline watchable. Because De Palma has (wrongly) opted for a campy style, it is only wise for Pacino to take his acting in that direction too.
    While Scarface gives some insights into the lifestyle of the drug underworld, one feels that it may not be as definitive as Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), the greatest picture of its genre, and many times more compulsively rewatchable. De Palma is talented but he is not a great filmmaker. He is way too inconsistent and his films do not often connect with viewers. Scarface would have been a failure if not for Stone’s intense screenplay and Pacino’s “cartoonish” performance. Montana is unforgettable, but Scarface is not.

    GRADE: C (6/10 or 2.5 stars)

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