A Cuban immigrant arrives on the shores of the USA seeking asylum. He soon takes over a drugs empire rising up the ranks to excess and deadly greed! His name was Tony Montana but the world will remember him by another name… SCARFACE!
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After being struck by Paul Muni’s performance in Hawks’ 1932 original film by the same name, Al Pacino spoke to his serial collaborator and producer friend Martin Bregman about an idea for a film. Martin Bregman could clearly envision an epic crime film built around a powerhouse central performance from Al Pacino. The result was a sprawling crime epic penned by the notorious Oliver Stone and directed by the legendary Brian De Palma – an instant classic.
Only a true Hollywood leading man could pull off a movie like Scarface. Pacino’s Scarface had a much bigger impact on its audience than Muni’s in the original. To this day rappers, rising actors and directors cite Scarface as their inspiration. African/American rappers in particular hold the film in an almost religious regard having the film playing on a continuous loop in their homes! Pacino’s doomed immigrant reaches out to many people with that magnetic performance that stays with you long after the film has ended.
Opportunity finally arrives when Tony and Manny take up a contract out on the head of a fellow Cuban in the camp. The murder scene is clearly directed with a sense of relish! Manny leads a haunting and chilling chant at the terrified victim building nail-biting tension! Then… Pacino suddenly appears out of nowhere dressed in blood red to close the deal! De Palma clearly knew how to use Pacino on screen and how to bring out the best from his screen persona.
The whole film is a grand showcase of what Pacino does best. Unlike the Godfather movies (and other award-type roles) this is more of a “signature” Pacino movie. Take the now infamous ‘Chainsaw Scene’ that got plenty of exposure for its graphic nature at the time. While diminutive in stature, Pacino plays out his ball-of-steel routine and is defiant to the end… even though his captors have a chainsaw! We love it because we love Pacino! So early on in the film it’s clear Tony won’t be killed here, however we want to see how he manages to destroy these Columbian gangsters! This is the appeal of a “signature” movie.
Pacino’s comic ability is first rate in Scarface; critics often overlook his comedic qualities as an actor. In the scene where Manny reveals his vulgar tongue gesture to women Pacino’s reaction is priceless! The scene wouldn’t be as funny with the gesture alone and Pacino pushes each of his lighter scenes further in this fashion. It works brilliantly as light relief in the dramatic scenes, particularly Tony’s drunken after-dinner speech!
Scarface has some wonderfully subtle elements running through its almost three hour duration. Tony’s troubled relationship with his sister Gina makes for superb drama with its intricate sexual undertones. Although the sexual element was hinted at in the Hawks original, De Palma has cleverly fleshed it out for the remake. Pacino’s Tony furiously “protects” Gina from every advance that comes her way. Then in the shattering finale Gina confronts Tony in a scary, sexually aggressive exchange. Pacino and Mastrantonio’s physical acting (during an early dispute in a nightclub) is malicious but appropriately sensual clearly marking the relationship for the violence to come.
Pacino plays his character arc wonderfully from start to finish. He begins as Tony the earnest hood but as soon as temptation comes into the fold he begins to slip into dangerous tyrannical territory! The scene where Tony exacts revenge upon his former boss and the dirty cop is the top of the slippery slope. The scene is very much aware of Pacino’s ‘Sollozzo Scene’ in The Godfather with Moran yelping: “…you can’t shoot a cop!” However, Pacino isn’t the nervous war hero of Michael Corleone, he’s a vicious Cuban assassin ever ready to hand out the death penalty. Pacino enters the scene in no hurry, groaning his lines and dragging his feet as the tired, wounded beast. But none of this matters because his adversaries are frozen stiff with fear at the pistol in his hand!
Scarface’s exhilarating finale is now a classic Pacino moment in cinema. A scene forever quoted by movie fans the world over! It is arguably the greatest cinematic portrait of excess so far in movies. The deep reds, the symphony of gunfire and coke-fueled battle cries of Pacino all come together brilliantly as an assault on the senses reminding you why some actors have to be seen on a big screen!