Scarface, the movie I loved as a kid and that has been idolized by gangsters and stoners everywhere. I used to be like my stoner friends (not a stoner, never done any drugs). I thought Scarface was awesome. That Al Pacino’s acting was incredible and that Tony Montana was the shit. He rose up the ranks, a zero to a hero. And the guys that screwed him over were the assholes, not Tony. But this time around, I watched Scarface with a more conscious eye. Pacino’s acting was still quite astounding. But the film has a few faults. But mostly I realized that this film has something substantial to say amongst all the glitz and mountains of coke.
What I like the most about Scarface is that it has a message, something valuable to say, and it is left up to the audience to interpret what that message is or at least what they want it to be. Tony Montana is a Cuban refugee, a criminal seeking to escape communism and make a life for himself in America. But Tony eventually gets caught up in the excitement and glamor of capitalism. Money, piles of cocaine, and awesome Jacuzzi bath tubs do not make a person happy. Especially when a man allows his hubris to alienate everyone around him. It’s a classic plot that dates back to Shakespeare and King Lear and probably even further than that.
I think that Martin Scorsese’s latest effort, The Wolf of Wall Street, borrows a lot from Scarface. When I watched Wolf though it left me feeling kind of mad. Empty. Ripped off. Is it really a commentary on greed if the protagonist still has an awesome life and got off easy? Scarface on the other hand hits me like a punch in the gut. That final shot of “The World is Yours” is haunting and a warning to those who want to follow Tony’s path. They are both quite good films, but Scarface has the edge. Dicaprio is great, but it’s really hard to match Al Pacino. He’s a master. His accent in Scarface is a little over the top, but I think it works. The two films also have great sidekicks in the forms of Jonah Hill and Steven Bauer. For me, I was not emotionally invested in Wolf. I think this is largely due to the weak character, Naomi, that Margot Robbie plays. She adds absolutely nothing to that film and is just as greedy and arrogant as her husband. I think a large part of the emotional impact in Scarface is courtesy of Michelle Pfeiffer and the role her character, Elvira, plays in Tony’s life. You can say that Elvira is just as greedy and arrogant as Naomi. And you know what, she probably is. But there’s something about her, it’s in her eyes. Elvira has a heart that she fiercely protects with aloofness and snotty banter. She’s an Ice Queen that eventually shatters, breaking both hers and Tony’s worlds. I am a huge Michelle Pfeiffer fan and her impact on this film is huge. As is that of all the other actors. I think Scarface is an instance of the stars aligning and everyone being on their top game.
Okay, so I diverged a lot in that last paragraph from where I intended on going with this review. You can draw comparisons between Scarface and a lot of other films, but Wolf jumped out at me since it is so recent. Anyways, Scarface can be quite over the top and a little ridiculous at times. But me, I kind of like it. I like my music loud and dramatic and I often favor movies that are similar. I forgive Scarface some faults that I would ridicule more recent films for because Scarface was made in the 80s. A time when everything was in neon colors and musicians had Flock of Seagulls hair. I especially found the score ridiculous, hilarious, and effective at the moments when Tony witnesses his sister involved in something he does not approve of. It’s similar to when the Bride in the Kill Bill movies sees red. I laughed out loud because Tony’s relationship with his sister is nuts. Just bat shit crazy. I’m pretty sure he is just hyper protective of her, but it does seem borderline incest. I like that in her final scene Tony’s sister, Gina, brings up the elephant in the room. Nothing gets resolved, but it is at least brought out into the open.
Overall I like Scarface. Maybe I forgive it for too much. Maybe I’m nostalgic for a time when dreams seemed reachable, even if they ultimately weren’t. Or maybe I just really love Al Pacino. I like an underdog story. But I also like when the underdog fucks up. Scarface can be over the top. But so are the emotions that go along with it. Few films impact me like the story of Tony Montana has. And few films are memorable, ones that seep into both pop culture and an audience member’s mind. Scarface is a classic. It is unafraid to be violent, profane, and to show that the dream of capitalism is a sham. It is not the most original film. But the cast, especially Al Pacino, is outstanding. The film is both memorable and highly entertaining. 8/10