Scarface (1983) – Brian De Palma

A story of greed wiping out any trace of humanity, and the dark side of the immigrant story, Brian De Palma’s update of the classic gangster 1932 film remains a staple of the genre as I return to the Thriller & Crime section of the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film.

Al Pacino plays the titular lead of Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant with a criminal past released by Castro in 1980 who makes landfall in Miami and then begins to carve out a piece of a corrupted American Dream for himself.

De Palma surrounds Pacino with a fine supporting cast, including F. Murray Abraham, Michelle Pfieffer, Steven Bauer, Robert Loggia, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and despite the calibre of talent, Pacion mops the floor with each of them.

Set in the pastel and glossy superficial look of 80s era Miami (obviously a heavy influence on the Miami Vice television series) violence, drugs, lust and greed represent the call of the ‘easy’ life that Tony covets.

His own greed drives him to pursue his goals, and his ambitions, but also ultimately causes his downfall, as well as distancing himself from any actual potential for love, friendship or basic human contact.

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De Palma makes fantastic use of imagery as well as sound, and the score by Giorgio Moroder is fantastic. It’s tightly paced, and incredibly well-crafted film that does not feel anywhere near as long as its almost three hour runtime would seem to suggest.

The film chronicles both rise and fall of Tony Montana. The script was written by Oliver Stone, and its violent conclusion included some material shot by Steven Spielberg!

I see Tony as a tragic character, and have never truly understood the popularisation of his character in mainstream culture. People want to emulate him, live that flashy life, songs have been composed as virtual odes to the character and the lifestyle he represents.

Why? Why would anyone want to be like that? To have the potential to have everything, to pursue it, achieve it, but greed and avarice push him too far, and he drives everyone, both personal and business away from him.

I’ve never been a fan of gangster movies, making these characters (anti)heroes has never been something I have understood (yes there is a lot of quotable dialogue), but this time, settling in to watch this one, I was stunned by everything that De Palma achieved with this film, and watching Pacino outpace everyone else’s performance is worth the watch on its own.

I still don’t care for gangster films, but this one is definitely a classic.

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