Friday, August 14, 2015

708. SCARFACE (1983)

Running Time: 170 minutes
Directed By: Brian De Palma
Written By: Oliver Stone, from the novel Armitage Trail and 1932 screenplay Scarface by Howard Hawks
Main Cast: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia
Click here to view the trailer


Been a few days - I bet you thought I forgot about the MARCH TO HALLOWEEN, which will see me hopefully wrapping up my journey through the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and putting to rest six years worth of work. Nope, I didn't forget and I'm still on track to make my goal. However, as June Carter said, time's a wastin'...

This is another one where I almost feel silly telling you what it's about, because anybody who's anybody, especially if you're a movie fan (which you must be or you wouldn't be here), knows the plot to Scarface. However, just to stick with format, I'll go over it for you. We kick it off a brief history lesson: In 1980, boat loads of Cubans arrive from their homeland to Miami. The initial purpose of the boat loads was to reunite Cubans with their families that had previously fled to the U.S. However, the Cuban government also took the opportunity to unload some of their criminals, sending over thousands of men who were occupying their prisons. One of the criminals - Antonio "Tony" Montana (Pacino), a career criminal, who ends up living in a tent underneath the freeway, with hundreds of his fellow countrymen. When an opportunity arises for Tony and his friend Manny (Bauer) to retrieve green cards, they snatch it up. All they have to do is kill someone. Tony barely bats an eye when he shoots the man to death in the streets. From there, Tony goes on to wash dishes at a burger joint, but realizes quick that he's a career criminal. When another opportunity arises to get his hands dirty, Tony takes it, assassinating a band of chainsaw wielding, Colombian drug dealers. With this kill, Tony manages to get in good with Frank Lopez (Loggia), the big dog in the world of drugs, in Miami. Tony watches, learns, stays loyal and even manages to undertake a few side projects, building up his wealth and ultimately rising in the criminal underworld, transforming before our eyes into a maniacal drug kingpin.


If I had to guess, I'd say I saw Scarface for the first and only time (before tonight) when I was about fourteen or fifteen. When I was that age - even younger - my parents were more concerned with sex & nudity, than they were with drugs & violence, when it came to what their children watched, so therefore watching Al Pacino do a nose dive (literally) into a mountain of cocaine and spout of the word "fuck" hundreds of times probably wouldn't have bothered them too much. Be that as it may, I have a feeling I still watched this one in my bedroom, keeping the mute button nearby, just in case I caught mom & dad in a particularly grumpy mood. Anyway, my first impressions, way back then, were not good toward Scarface. After watching it tonight and being able to find very few flaws (if any), I think I have to chalk up my initial dislike for Scarface as simply, young & dumb. I mean I don't think I was so far off that I thought Pacino was taking hits of Splenda, but I'd say it was probably too long to hold my attention and pertained to certain things I simply wasn't familiar with, since I lead a particularly sheltered life. It's also possible, that at this point, I had yet to see Heat, Dog Day Afternoon, Carlito's Way, Scent of a Woman, Sea of Love & Frankie and Johnny, among others, solidifying Al Pacino as one of my all time favorites. Because I think if I'd been a little older, a little smarter and a little more of a Pacino fanatic, I don't think there's anyway I couldn't have loved this spectacular movie.

Can I just talk about Pacino for a minute? I mean, how fantastic is this guy. In Scarface, he puts in a performance that goes perhaps the furthest I've seen from an actor simply reading lines off a page, memorizing mannerisms, getting "into character". Here, Pacino creates an entire personality, an entire aura of a man. He doesn't just go through the motions, but rather he puts in the effort to create as close to a real man as can possibly come off of a movie screen. Tony Montana had a heart, had passion, had a lust for power, perhaps stemming from a poor, fatherless childhood. Perhaps Tony's desire to "own the world" surely came from living in a communist country, where one owned nothing and was always told how to live, what to do. Here you have a guy who literally goes from rags to riches and the journey from those rags to those mountains of drugs & riches, is a tale for the ages. This one very easily stands the test of time, not aging a bit and holding up as much in 2015, as I'm sure it did in 1983. I was literally scared of Antonio Montana, this character that threatened to leap right out of the celluloid and rip my heart out of my chest if I made the wrong move. I had a hard time telling if Tony was truly a bad guy or if somewhere under that thick, Cuban accent, $800 suits and pocketfuls of drug money, if maybe there was a man who yearned to be a little boy again, tugging at his mother's apron strings, craving a better childhood, more attention, an upbringing that wouldn't lead to the life he ended up leading. However, as Tony puts it in his speech at dinner, when he kisses goodbye to Elvira for the final time, he is "the bad guy" and that's that. Look, of course Tony had a heart. Look at the kids he refused to blow up or even the children of his own he wanted from Elvira. That scene in the car when Tony shoots Alberto - it's kind of like "the bad guy" fist fighting with "the good guy" and on this one occasion, the good guy finally won a round.

One of the very few flaws I found in the whole picture was the appearance of Michelle Pfeiffer's character. In my view, I really think you could have cut out the character entirely and still had pretty much the exact same film. I didn't feel like Elvira offered anything to the development and dimension of Pacino's Montana and really, their scenes together were just fodder until we got to the next juicy bit. However, I will say. that without question, Michelle Pfeiffer has NEVER looked better. It's as if De Palma took extreme caution to always film her just right, making moves as precise as a painter's hand when it came to things like wardrobe, makeup and the like. She was simply stunning and worthy of Pacino's kingpin character - a dame fit for a king.

In closing, I was extremely thrilled with this movie. It managed to keep fully coherent and awake on a night when I'd worked the same day (not an easy task) and makes me realize that when film's put me to sleep, they put me to sleep for a reason - and it's not necessarily because I'm tired. I was completely "INTO" this movie, wanted to know more, wanted to get more of the story, felt compelled to go search out the DVD and make sure there weren't any deleted scenes left off the final product. The film had everything that I, personally, look for in a movie: a fantastic cast (everyone from Pacino to Mastrantonio to Pfeiffer were great), great directing (De Palma proved to be skilled here), great writing (I have a new respect for Oliver Stone, whose movies I've never been really able to get into), the plot, the cinematography, the characters and the character development. Everything seemed to be spot on and I can boldly say that this is the best thing I've seen in quite sometime.

RATING: 10/10  Screw it, I'm going all the way, baby! It's worth noting that this is the first '10' I've given to a BOOK movie since Turkish Delight, which I believe I watched sometime last November. This is also only the second movie that I've given a '10' to this whole calendar year, BOOK or NON-BOOK (the other being Dogville). Yep, it's that good.


August 14, 2015  11:28pm


  1. You pretty much know my reply don't you?
    Well, mostly. Not as down on it as you may well expect.. and I agree with all your comments about Pacino and his performance.. but once again my dislike of the characters - and the excessive swearing and violence somewhat obscured by view of the film as a whole.
    Look, it's not THAT bad.. when I first watched it, it kept me interested .. it's just that on attempted second viewing .. and the prospect of giving it another go .. rather bores me.

    1. Yeah, I really didn't expect you to like this, but I was more than ready for you to surprise me and tell me that, actually, you did like it! Again I say, to each their own.


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