Here’s another movie that i hadn’t seen in something like 10 years, which is weird because for a while i watched it often enough to not forget anything that happens in it. I suppose that’s just what happens to things over time, you stop caring and move on. But we’re getting sidetracked here.
The first time i watched Scarface would be at the young age of 5 or 6, i was at my grandmother’s place and my cousins and uncle took away the TV from me in order to watch it. From that first viewing i remember quite a lot, so when i watched it again years later…
i don’t know where i was going with that, how about i just write the review.
In this remake of the 1932 classic, the newly arrived Tony Montana lets his ambitions guide him to making his empire of drugs and violence a reality; but can a shooting star last all that long?
Despite being a violent drug dealer Tony Montana has an odd sort of charm. Despite his explosive rage and scummy business dealings Montana displays a good deal of humour and loyalty that makes him a likable character to me. As Merlin put in Excalibur so wonderfully:
“It’s easy to love folly in a child…”
His good qualities (loyalty, humour, ambition, balls) hide his ugly side (rage, jealousy, greed, stubbornness) for most of the film, and the film succeeds in making him worth watching (unlike in other films) by focusing on and testing those good qualities. I wonder if this is where my first appreciation of Pacino started, as he gives an energetic and charismatic portrayal of the titular scarface.
Steven Bauer plays Tony’s right hand man with a playboy charm that makes him easy to like, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (in her break out role) plays Tony’s sister with the right amount of innocence that makes her inevitable fate all the more tragic. Michelle Pfeiffer although not given too much to do still manages to make Tony’s wife, Elvira Hancock a tragic figure to add to the entire mess that Tony and his ambitions brings to the story.
While he film’s violence and language are legendary at this point, I find that it’s important to emphasise the brutality of the business that Tony pursues, drugs and drug dealing is an ugly thing and i’m glad that the film shows the ugliness of it all for what it is. However while the infamous chainsaw scene still can be hard to watch for some, i honestly feel its a bit quaint that the film earned an X rating as nothing in display here is particularly shocking in this day and age of HBO and torture porn releases.
Although the film runs a healthy 2 hours and 43 minutes the film remains focused on the big events of Tony’s life, as a result time and narrative jumps are employed to sometimes damaging effects. How long did it take Tony to create his empire? 2 Years? 3 Years? How long was he on top of the world? Hints are placed throughout, but over all time is in fast forward throughout the film. While this keeps the film moving at a steady pace, some interpersonal relationships suffer.
This is particularly so between Tony and Elvira, the two aren’t even shown falling in love with one another before they’re already at each others throats. Their happy marriage doesn’t even last through the Push it to the Limit montage, as the film needs to show the big break up moments quickly. Add to this Pfeiffer and Pacino have very little chemistry together, and you get what’s supposed to be one of the biggest losses in Tony’s life end up being not worth much to begin with (although this might have been done purposefully).
While the film is set up as a great tragedy of how Tony’s ambitions end up bringing about his downfall, ultimately i find that central tragedy too muddled in the awfulness of Tony’s life and Tony’s character. Tony is already a criminal when he comes to the land of the free, although he is likable i can’t see him as a blank slate at the start of the film. Compare this to Michael Corleone who starts off as a normal law abiding man and war hero, that is slowly and methodically brought down about to do more and more heinous things. Tony’s fall is as inevitable as the sun setting considering his poor character, while Michael’s depths aren’t immediately transparent.
You know it’s really weird when a film like Amadeus comes out a year later and looks less dated. I suppose this has mostly to do with the aesthetic of the two time periods, and while it probably is not a fair comparison i find myself continually surprised that the latter came out in 1984. Scarface however is most certainly a product of the 80’s, from the visual design to the music it is all neon lights and earnest synthesizer pop. While the dated nature of the setting can give a film a historical charm (like Saturday Night Fever) i simply don’t get the same feeling here with Scarface.
Scarface is certainly far from the best gangster film ever made, as its central tragedy is focused around an already rotten core of Tony Montana. However despite the film’s flaws i still find it an intriging story of how too much ambition and greed can poison a person’s life, and most importantly how it can poison everybody around them.