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Scarface

Scarface

By Arpad Lukacs • October 18th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
SCARFACE (MOVIE)
Universal Pictures

Original release: December 9th, 1983
Running time: 170 minutes

Director: Brian De Palma
Writer: Oliver Stone

Cast: Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, Steven Bauer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, F. Murray Abraham, Robert Loggia

Scarface

After several years of following American politics quite closely, I still haven’t made up my mind about Jimmy Carter. I may have a personal bias because his presidency in the United States overlapped with my birth in 1979, but the political left and right in the US are strongly divided on Carter’s legacy. Maybe I’m one of those hopeless liberals who admire his record of not firing a single bullet while leading the most powerful country in the world. At times though, it seems perfectly possible the conservatives are right and he was too soft and indecisive.

While there’s very little doubt that Carter’s handling of the Mariel Boatlift in 1980 makes him a legitimate target for criticism, it was nevertheless this mass exodus of Cubans to the United States that gave Oliver Stone the foundation to write a film script that was to be made into one of the great cinema classics of all time. Scarface has countless fans the world over, but the film’s larger-than-life protagonist, Tony Montana – played by Al Pacino, seems to be bigger than the film itself at times.

Pacino’s performance gave us one of the most memorable and quotable characters in film history, but he’s still a character of only one redeeming quality, which is ironically the one that leads to his eventual downfall. Still, Tony, the king of criminals, is looked up to by some. For most of us though, Scarface is more of a cautionary tale than a place to find role models. From the poverty Cuban refugees faced on arrival in Miami, Tony’s extremely violent ascent to the top is motivated by greed and materialism. Yet when he finally gets “the world and everything in it” his purpose is lost and inevitable self-destruction begins.

At its core, Scarface is a story about greed, very much like Wall Street (1987), a movie also written by Stone, but this time he took the director’s chair as well.

Scarface

Some people fall victim to greed wearing a suit, others while holding a machine gun. Stone’s evident understanding of the film’s subject matter combined with Pacino’s superb performance and unforgettable delivery of those famous one-liners, under the direction of Brian De Palma, made the Scarface we know today. They start to look like a cinematic Holy Trinity of sorts. Three people with strong opinions and commanding personalities were able to collaborate and to click everything into place to a point of perfection.

With De Palma’s unique visual style we have scenes like the infamous chainsaw sequence where a slowly moving camera builds up almost unbearable tension that leads us to a gory showdown between two gangs. When watching the sequence more carefully, we realize very little gore is actually shown; we think we saw it because that’s what De Palma wanted us to think.

Although Al Pacino’s violent star shines ever so bright, there’s a remarkable supporting cast in Scarface. In the restaurant scene – my favorite in the film – Michelle Pfeiffer, in the role that first brought her mainstream attention, looks at her crime boss husband with such hatred and contempt I can still hardly believe today. The eyes of a young actress, just in those few seconds alone, make Pfeiffer look like Scarfaceshe’s an absolute veteran of her craft. Tony’s best friend Manny, played by Steven Bauer, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as his sister Gina, also delivered great performances. F. Murray Abraham is brilliant as Tony’s jealous two-faced arch-enemy Omar Suárez. There isn’t one actor in Scarface I could fault for being anything less than superb in their roles.

I saw Scarface for the first time fairly late in my movie-watching life simply because I’m really not that into gangster films in general. If you have similar taste, don’t let that discourage you; it’s a quintessential film experience for film enthusiasts as well as casual moviegoers.

After the seven months of exodus that was the Mariel Boatlift, Fidel Castro himself publicly stated: “I have flushed the toilets of Cuba on the United States” as an estimated 25000 people with criminal records were forced out of Cuba amongst the refugees. I guess in a twisted kind of way, we film lovers should be grateful to Jimmy Carter for allowing that to happen.

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.

Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.

Have a look at Arpad's photography site, and you can follow him on Twitter @arpadlukacs.

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