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Review of Scarface (1983)

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Decadent, exuberant and outlandishly big, Brian DePalma's operatic grandstand slyly and ironically envisions America's still-thriving meritocracy with baroque verve. Neon-emblazoned, hyperkinetic 1980s Miami is sensational to look at, thanks to the visceral extravagance and gloriously fervid visuals; sleazy, electronic, over-styled and dreamily captured in wide-angled framing, it is beautiful, subversive and worthy of its title as a pop culture touchstone.
Either in discos, country homes or geometric, personally made mansions, every frame pops with its obscene array of multi-coloured magnetism; cleverly realistic blood is spilled and splattered via countless bullet wounds (also by way of a buzz-chainsaw, an infamous scene at the time) throughout, but especially at the film's conclusion, whereby a literal bloodbath takes place in Tony's mansion and ends in a blue pool below the iconic neon pink 'The World Is Yours' globe statue, perhaps the most symbolic image of excess in all of cinema.

Right from outset, DePalma transposes the action of Miami from the refugee boats exiting Cuba, many of which are criminals expelled from their homeland by Fidel Castro in an attempt to empty the overcrowded jails. Tony is ferociously determined to take advantage of his new lavish, murkily and hierarchically-structured criminal surroundings, viewing it as his world to own; the crux of capitalism and strives to achieve the American dream. Several months dwelling in a refugee camp, Tony parlays a successful hit on a former Cuban government official into a connection with a drug lord; from there, he rises to the top, but crashes headlong into a spiral of excess and paranoia.
His relationships with Manny and Elvira, his trophy wife, are integral to the unhinged state of mind he descends into, both distrusting and persecutory; Elvira is a lonely junkie who cannot have children and Tony only truly loves his sister, Gina, whom he inexorably introduces into his world, tainting her purity and vapid innocence which he personified her as, exploding with jealousy whenever men covet her, especially Manny, a womaniser with good intentions.
Scarface, beyond its style, possesses a tragic heart buried in its many layers and contradictions, exemplified by Tony refusing to murder his associate's national exposer and his young family: eschewing the theory of his amorality, and crafting a semi-human gangster. Ultimately, Scarface dooms Tony once he reveals his humanity, and how it builds towards his demise is one of the most machismo, frenetic arcs of total self-destruction of a character, captured with lightning pace by DePalma. Tony expresses regret for his deplorable actions, but that is the fatal fault in his personality: his fierce protectiveness of Gina overspills into irrational rage; his power is slowly gained - he murders his boss and overtakes his life, staring out of the window of his condo - but is quickly drained. And as with any gangster movie, the dominant mood is what goes up must come down - success and power do not mix: when the protagonist can no longer find anything to overrule, objectify or possess, he loses everything and drastically falls apart, because nothing is ever enough, it's a film that is bleak and futile, particularly in its exploration of addiction, after all, that's what it is really about, it was written with that intention by Oliver Stone. Its the evolution, fatal flaws and complexities of his fragmented soul that make Tony Montana so influential, and Al Pacino's cataclysmic, bravura performance is mesmerising and once seen, impossible to forget.

Scarface remains an eminently quotable, compulsively watchable template for modern-criminal deconstructions of the American Dream, a cultural totem that effectively became the genesis of hip-hop iconography, with florid pleasures that can never be exhausted; it is a garish piece of pop art that walks a thin white line between moral drama and hip-hip classic.

Added by darkparadise
5 years ago on 10 January 2013 03:19


Posted: 5 years, 6 months ago at Jan 10 6:25
Excellent review. I wish that "wanna be thugs" would read this review. Some people simply cannot believe that Tony caused his own demise. They simply believe that he was "too gangster" and had to die. He chose to get morals at the wrong time, in my opinion.

Also, did you read about a remake of this film due out next year? Ugh. Who do you think should be the lead?
Posted: 5 years, 6 months ago at Jan 10 21:54
Tony caused his own demise, that's for sure; his reasons for becoming rich and powerful had disappeared along with his loved ones. Tony subconsciously chose to disobey his partner's orders because, to paraphrase him, he liked little kids, he wanted a family; he killed Frank and the cop for double crossing him, but not the wife and children of the person threatening to ruin his empire. They represented his own loss and I don't think he cared about what he built for himself; he wasn't paranoid anymore when the army of henchmen arrived to kill him. He knew it was coming and he accepted it.

I don't think they should remake it, but they probably will considering the 1983 version is more popular than the 1932 original. And no actor around nowadays is similar to Al Pacino, so I don't know who would replace him, it would be impossible to usurp his performance, its superlative.

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