To compare this version with the original 1932 classic please click here
Ah, the American dream, that everyone, not matter how lowly their humble beginnings, can become a success and have it all. It is this hope that drove millions of people from foreign shores to come to this country. Unfortunately, in the eighties the means to this end for a significant number of people was the nefarious illegal drug trade. Little white powders that could be easily transported and sold for an incredible profit permitted the less moral young entrepreneurs to do everything and anything necessary to grab the riches they coveted. This is the basis of the tale of the Cuban immigrant Tony Montana (Al Pacino) as told in Scarface. As the story begins Tony and his friend Manny (Steven Bauer) are literally just off the boat from Cuba. There was a time when Cuba decided the most expeditious way to handle their crime problem was to take the little local hoods and ship them to the shores of Florida. Tony and Manny are dedicated to obtaining their Green Cards and becoming rich. The more legitimate ways to obtain these goals never seem to cross their minds. They have nothing but distain for the low paying jobs they initial obtain and jump at the chance to work for the local drug lord Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia). Even in this shadowy underworld they are expected to work their way up in the organization. At first they are in the muscle end of the business, visiting incredible brutality upon their rival gang members. The reputation that Tony gets for unbridled viciousness assures him a quick ascent in the Lopez crime family but that is not enough for Tony, he wants it all and he wants it now. Tony also finds himself caught between two women, Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer) the beautiful trophy of the boss and his own kid sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) who wants little more than to party her way through life, much to the distain of Tony. He does exhibit a typical double standard here with his attitude that a life of sex and drugs is okay for men but not his little sister. Of course, in typical Hollywood style, the result is the self-destructive rebellion of Gina. What little humanity Tony displays is towards his sister. He does come across as honestly concerned with her, he acknowledges his responsibility to her but this does little to invoke any sympathy from the audience. Tony is the epitome of the callous gangster, the duality of this business where one face is shown to the family while another is given to business. While the Godfather and even the Sopranos managed to explore this in better fashion this film does provide a little more depth than many give credit.
Although this is a strong and memorable performance by Pacino it is not really among his best. In a similar role in the Godfather trilogy his presentation of Tony here is too overplayed. This reduces the character to a parody of what it could have been. The over the top presence of huge amounts of drugs and the plethora of bullets may make for exciting cinema but removes something from the ability of the audience to truly care about the principles of the drama. What people tend to remember about this film are these excesses not the performances. This very much applies to the under-utilized leading lady. Although Ms Pfeiffer had some ten films prior to this one, Scarface is the flick that brought her into the start of her list recognition. Considering that Grease 2 directly preceded this film you can readily understand the kick start a role like this would provide. Even though she has proven herself capable of strong performances, here she drifts through her presentation. To be honest, that may have been intentional, a means of demonstrating how lost her character was, how Elvira’s life was defined by others with little self-direction. Loggia gives is usual all in his role as the crime boss. Here is a man that made a he turned into a lucrative career for himself in ancillary roles bring the Hollywood tough guy to defining heights. While most concentrate on the leads without supporting performances like Loggia always gives any film would fall apart. Mastrantonio shines as Gina. Here an over the top performance is called for. She plays the little sister as a person that wants to ride her successful brother’s coat tails to the good life and forget about any consequences that may come along.
Some have stated an opinion that director Brian De Palma has made a career of ripping off other, more talented and established directors. While De Palma does often provide homage to such greats as Hitchcock, there is originality in his style and method of presenting a film. Here, with Scarface he appears to be honoring the later work of Sam Peckinpah, especially with a nod towards the ultra-violent ‘Wild Bunch’. As mentioned, the excesses in this film are a two edged sword, propelling the film into the collective consciousness of American film and at times detracting from the ultimate development of the story and characters. It is nearly impossible to even count the number of bullets, the occurrences of the infamous ‘F’ word or the amount of drugs displayed in this movie. The ending is culminates with a shoot of such proportions that the mind becomes numb at the violence. Tony is shown using cocaine, not a little line drawn in typical fashion but is a huge pile on his desk. There is actually some justification for these images of sensory overload, De Palma was trying to capture the excesses men in this world are used to. Extreme violence brings extremes in wealth, drugs and sex. This movie set out to depict this cycle of excess feeding upon itself in a black hole of annihilation. It is as ultimately the major flaw of the movie. The audience is left numb to the very factors intended to shock the viewers. Huge piles of cocaine, literally thousands of rounds of ammunition fired and some 226 ‘F’ bombs dropped at a then record breaking pace of a reported 1.32 per minute. Such techniques fail to age well and wind up diminishing the lasting impact of the film. People remember the excess rather than the story.
There have been many releases of this film including a special edition gift set in a faux cigar humidor with the original 1932 movie and a money clip. The latest incarnation is a special edition Steel Book release in high definition. The variation I strongly suggest is linked above. The Blu-ray has an immaculate uncompressed1080p video transfer and includes a spectacular DTS-HD MA 7.1 main audio track. This one features the hefty selection of added material listed below. To be certain you have the correct release the UPC for that item is 025192103179, released Oct 11, 2011.
Initial review Posted 9/6/03
Blu-ray review Posted 11/04/2014