When Fidel Castro opened his borders (harbour, actually) for Cubans to re-unite with their families in the US in May 1980, he also pushed 25,000 criminals from his prisons onto the boats. Tony Montana (Al Pacino) was one of them. In the US, Montana quickly finds his level, like water; it is in thuggery and crime, leading his smart-ass ways to cocaine and unspendable millions in cash. His mother (Miriam Colon) knows how dangerous and bad he is, but his younger sister (Mary Elizabeth Mastroantonio) doesn’t – until it’s too late. He works first for Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia) but he wants to run his own show. He takes Franks’ woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and does a deal with smooth drugs operator Alejandro Sosa (Paul Shenar) in South America. His fellow Cuban refugee Manolo Rivera (Steven Bauer) becomes his trusted lieutenant, but as Tony grows more and more ambitious, increasingly high on his own supply and uncontrollably paranoid, he begins to systematically destroy everything he has built, including his trusted friends and loving family. (Digitally remastered print.)
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Oliver Stone’s deeply researched script plays like a Greek tragedy, with the hero coming from the wrong side of the tracks. And staying there. Palpitating with intensity, Scarface is the story of a Cuban rogue whose idea of a land of opportunity in America is a land to be ransacked for his own benefit. But even as he cuts a swathe through the criminal world of Miami and establishes his own form of kingdom, Tony Montana’s character is destined to be his undoing. ‘The world is yours’ becomes Tony’s ironic mantra, meaning of course that the world is ‘mine’ - not yours.
He is not as smart as he thinks, he is not as indestructible as he wants to be and he never realises that he becomes his own worst enemy. Those who remain loyal to him are finally destroyed with him. This is an epic story because it encompasses the whole damn thing of human aspiration, challenge, determination and success – and shows it to be empty and futile unless accompanied by something more compassionate and humane.
Al Pacino creates a feral Tony Montana, and we are attracted to him one minute, repelled the next. Our sympathies sway with his fortunes and his behaviour. He was nominated for a Best Actor in the Golden Globes for it, and in retrospect, it’s an award winning performance, not despite but because of its sustained size and power. Calling his performance over the top is like blaming a tomato for being too red. Whaddaya want?
But it offended so many it never got a look at the Oscars. Of course, offending people is no bad thing from a creative point of view, as long as you have something valid and truthful to say.
And De Palma does. This is a searing and brutal film about brutal people; that they are Cuban is not an ethnic slur. Albanians can be brutal, too. Besides, they are all brutal, including the Americans and the ‘international jet set’ types like Paul Shenar’s Sosa. It’s also the story of one man whose opportunism is equally an indictment of America’s corporate greed, represented by the bank that launders his millions.
In 1983, all of this was fresh, from the cocaine to the graphic, high-voltage violence. And it still has that visceral power, even though Tony Montana and the violence have been photocopied dozens of times since.
Notable as career launchpads for Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastroantonio, it is also a wonderful showcase for F. Murray Abraham in a role that immediately pre-dates his Oscar winning and career defining role as Mozart’s nemesis, Salieri, in Amadeus – the film he made next (in 1984), after Scarface (1983).
Seeing the film some 20 years after it was made (digitally remastered with a digital soundtrack) doesn’t diminish its power and its relevance as a study of humanity. Brian De Palma is a controversial director because he tackles those core issues of human frailties head on. His care for the performances, his meticulous attention to the details (like sound, massive teams of sound engineers worked on this) are testament to his cinematic ambitions. He brings all his tricks together to create visceral experiences for the audience, subverting the notions of heroes being good guys. In the end, we no longer sympathise with Tony – but once upon a time we did. Why was that?
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CAST: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastroantonio, Robert Loggia, Miriam Colon, F. Murray Abraham, Paul Shenar, Harris Yulin, Angel Alazar
PRODUCER: Martin Bregman
DIRECTOR: Brian De Palma
SCRIPT: Oliver Stone
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John A. Alonzo
EDITOR: Jerry Greenberg, David Ray
MUSIC: Girorgio Moroder
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Ferdinando Scarfiotti
RUNNING TIME: 166 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 26, 2004