Scarface – 1983
Directed by Brian DePalma
Written by Oliver Stone
Cuban criminal Tony Montana (Al Pacino) makes his way to America on the Mariel Boatlift, and finds that Miami is like one gigantic pussy just waiting to be fucked. He soon makes his way up the up the crime ladder and is running his own cocaine operation.
Supposedly a remake of the 1933 Howard Hawks crime drama of the same title, the more recent Scarface just had a small re-release in theaters in order to drum up publicity for the DVD special edition that was released this week. I had never seen the movie before, and was really looking forward to it. Scarface is one of those films that has become a sort of cultural touchstone, the lines are referenced and quoted endlessly, it has been a major influence on rap culture (watch MTV Cribs and count the Scarface posters you see), and supplied much of the plot for GTA: Vice City. Hell, even my own family, who usually don’t care if the movie had won an Oscar or was the Sylvester Stallone disaster Oscar, had a spur of the moment debate on Sunday about whether the film was any good or not.
I don’t see what all the hype was about.
I get the feeling that the movie might be suffering from what I call the "Die Hard Syndrome" (Like Lou Gehrig’s disease, it’s named after its most famous victim). This is where an influential film generates countless imitators and rip-offs that flood the marketplace and end up diminishing the power of the original. If you come in and see the original for the first time later on, it ends up looking just as derivative as the other films that it has spawned. This is not to say that it seems to be without merit, just that it’s originality can’t be fully appreciated by a new generation.
So to me, all of this seemed a bit like old hat. The coke-snorting. The shrill, troublemaking wife. The rise and fall of our crime lord hero. Even the violence, which has always been spoken of in hushed tones, didn’t feel like much to this boy who was raised on John Woo movies and too many hours of Hitman 2. It was nowhere near as bloody as I thought it would be, even compared to modern mainstream movies like Bad Boys II. Surprisingly, much was left to the imagination, especially during the infamous chainsaw sequence. The horrors conjured within the individual mind are worse than would could be captured on film.
The two things that differentiate it from the rest of the pack are the time period of the movie and, of course, Al Pacino’s performance. The movie is squarely set in 1980 and rates high on the unintentional comedy scale with the last days of disco dancing, open shirts with ultra-wide lapels, and hideously thin women with way too much makeup on. The synthesizer-filled soundtrack is simply terrible. Apparently Jay-Z and a bunch of other Scarface-influenced rappers have put together a new soundtrack album and I think marrying some of that music with the existing film could be kinda cool. The time period even comes out in the filmmaking style, such as the ultra cheesy "eeeeeeeee!!" music chord whenever Tony gives his crazy stare.
Which brings us to Al Pacino as Tony Montana. The man doesn’t just chew the scenery, he slathers it in rich creamery butter and chows it down with a side of fries. The way he dances within the frame and over-pronounces everything with his outrrrrrragous accent completely destroys anyone else’s performance within the film. How can you compete with the crazy talking midget who shoots everbody? Watching this character is enjoyable in the beginning because he is so completely insane, and the whole “rise to the top” segment is always the best part of any crime movie. Unfortunately, during the second half of the film Tony becomes a complete mope, increasingly paranoid and unhappy with his life. This of course leads to the always-depressing downfall sequences. The film slides downhill until the grand guignol finale featuring a small army of Bolivians vs. Tony with a grenade launcher (which I admit was pretty damn cool).
Tony Montana is a fun character, and I enjoyed a lot of the black humor present in his portrayal. It’s just that the movie isn't willing to have too much fun with him and ends up overstaying its welcome.