Tag Archives: Scarface

Scarface (1983) 4.43/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 79.1
Genre: Crime
Duration: 170 mins
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, Steven Bauer

Brian De Palma and Oliver Stone’s reimagining of Howard Hawks’ prohibition-era gangster epic replaces the grime of old Chicago with the neon glitz and kitschy glow of 1980’s Miami and sets the scene for one of the most unique gangster movies of them all. Drop Al Pacino into the lead role of Cuban exile come narcotics trafficking kingpin and you can add “most explosive” to that accolade too. Pacino inhabits the gnarly skin of Tony Montero like few actors could or have as he steels the screen with his presence. An unpredictable concoction of balls to the wall attitude and psychopathic viciousness that bubbles to the boil around five minutes in and continues that way until the movie’s gargantuan close. Though everyone else falls in his frothing wake, there’s a lot of fun in their performances from Tony’s partner and incorrigible ladies-man Steven Bauer, to his reluctant self-hating wife Michelle Pfeiffer, to Robert Loggia’s weak-willed mob boss desperately trying to keep his insanely ambitious young charge on a leash.

Much has been made of this remake’s audacious production design and it’s usually this aspect that most detractors set their sights on. But regardless of criticism, there’s no denying that Scarface is its own film. Moreover, the truth is that, alongside Giorgio Moroder’s amusingly profound score, De Palma’s vision goes so far beyond cheesy that the movie exists in a fascinating kind of hyper-real haze of meta-gangsterism. And as is the case with every one of that director’s 1980’s movies, that’s exactly the point! Scarface isn’t a straight gangster narrative even though its works brilliantly as such, nor is it an action film even though its littered with sublimely staged (not to mention rather grisly) set-pieces that dwarf most of that decade’s best. Scarface is a twisted fairytale of greed and ambition funnelled through the intense personality of one of cinema’s most powerful actors at the height of his powers. Through this vessel, Stone’s crazy but endlessly quotable dialogue bristles with the megalomanic intention of a coke-fuelled tyrant and again, like all De Palma’s movies from around that time, it thus becomes a statement on the state of contemporary cinema itself. That it’s a riveting blast to experience just makes it all the more remarkable.

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Scarface (1932)


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Rating: The Good – 84.8
Genre: Gangster
Duration: 93 mins
Director: Howard Hawks
Stars: Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley

Howard Hawk’s original gangster masterpiece is a less romanticised and more accusatory piece of story-telling than Brian De Palma’s worthy remake but just as dark. Paul Muni stars as the ruthless hood who murders his way to the top of Chicago’s mob world. It’s a terrific performance as he exudes menace and low brow sensibilities with every heavily accented word and crooked smile. The scope of Ben Hecht’s adaptation (of Armitage Trail’s story) is impressive but thanks to the outstanding writing, it still manages to give us a more intimate perspective than such scope would suggest possible. Moreover, the characters are well drawn out and there’s even some rich humour to be found sprinkled throughout. Hawks pulls out all the stops in giving us levels of street violence that at the time were unprecedented and even today are quite impressive. Moreover, the shootings and bombings come across as much more realistic and cold-minded than modern day movie villainy. The photography is sumptuous and combined with the seedy characters and first rate story, it’s hugely memorable – as that excellent Valentine’s Day Massacre sequence is testament to. Overall and despite the monumental performance of Pacino in the 1980’s version, the original Scarface probably remains a more substantial and satisfying experience than the remake.

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