Director: Brian De Palma
Starring: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia
He was Tony Montana. The world will remember him by another name… Scarface!
Tony Montana and his friend Manny Ribera tries to get over the US borders from Cuba, but is caught and sent to a refugee camp. They make a deal with a drug dealer to murder a former Cuban government official, which also secures them green cards to live and work in the US.
When they get out of the refugee camp, they start to work their way up fast in the gang of Frank Lopez, much in thanks to Montana’s ruthless ambitions and he is refusing to let anything get in the way of his hunt for money, power and respect.
Tony Montana, Scarface. One of the most iconic characters in movie history. There is no denying the influence this film has had over the years on everything from other films, video games and even music (especially the hip-hop genre). It is features in several top ten films of all time lists and it is the most loved gangster film outside of The Godfather trilogy.
Even though it is well-recognized as an important cinematic masterpiece these days, it got mixed reception by critics upon its release and only had a decent success in the box offices. I’m convinced that the only reason why critics didn’t dare to praise it back in 1983 was because of its brutal tone and foul language, which critics like to think only should happen in b-movies and those are of course beneath them.
Let’s start off with the script. Oliver Stone wrote the script while being heavy in the party scene of the early 80’s where cocaine was the poison to abuse and it all started out as a remake of the Howard Hawks 1932 gangster classic with the same title. This script however would also go very deep in the streets and bring a ruthless approach to it with interesting characters from Tony Montana and down to the lower street guys of the gang.
Tony Montana is of course the iconic one that everyone remembers and for good reason. Al Pacino was simply excellent in this role and we get to see him from his starting point and how his achievements changed him. The viewer might like him at first, even though he is a criminal since he does come off as having loyalty and honour, but as his power increases his ego and inner demons come out to the surface. It’s amazing to watch Pacino in his prime deliver quotables after quotables and with the stereotype casting that stars go for today I’m not sure if we will ever get another one like him from those days. How this wasn’t an Academy Award nominating performance is beyond me, but then again who cares what they have to say right?
We don’t only see the rise of Tony Montana, but also by his loyal friend Manny. He is however not that driven towards the same height of power that Tony is and is happy with what they have achieved and are able to still keep his feet on grown even when the money is piling in. Manny is played by Steven Bauer and what’s interesting about the Manny character is that he might come off as a little childish and less intelligent at the start of their journey, but seems to mature as the wealth starts to come.
All of the supporting characters also have their place and represents something. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Elvira, who starts out as the girlfriend of Frank and then moves on to Tony when he takes over as the boss of the crime family. She is coked up all the time and is unable to see that her pursuit for big pocket boyfriends doesn’t bring her any happiness at all. Tony’s sister Gina is a naive young lady who could easily end up becoming Elvira in the future unless she is guarded from the scene.
The film is masterfully directed by Brian De Palma, an underappreciated director back in the 80’s. He was able to make one of the most brutal scenes ever without showing off any real violence with the motel scene, a scene that could equal several of the toughest scenes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He also gets nearly everything right, the mixture of the awesome music done by Giorgio Moroder and his visual taste fits perfectly and the character relationships work smoothly.
Scarface is a nearly perfect film and one of the best crime films of all time. Hell, it wouldn’t surprise me if it ended up in top 20 lists of greatest films regardless of genre’s. Everyone who is interested in cinema should at least see Scarface once, while I myself likes to re watch it with few years in between.