Scarface

I always seem to have the hardest time writing about famous movies. I think it's because I've already read and heard so much about them, that I feel like there's not so much left to say that's new. It's hard to go into a movie as infamous as Brian De Palma's 1983 Scarface and look at it fresh, even if you haven't seen it. You know the movie just because of popular culture, and you take that with you when you watch it.

I can't remember the last time I saw this movie, and I loved watching it again today. It's so over the top and so different than most crime movies. Pacino is so incredible. He has such a great range as an actor that during this movie it almost looks physically impossible that he is the same person who later put on big glasses and a cardigan for You Don't Know Jack (Ebert reminded me of it today on Facebook, as he has just watched it). There are way too many actors who just succeed on playing similar characters, often themselves. It can be funny for a while, but I get sick of it quickly, and it's always so great to see an actor really lose himself in a role like this.


The movie, as I think we all know, is about the rise and fall of Tony Montana. We watch him go from being just another Cuban immigrant to a drug lord, and eventually, we see his decline, as well. He's an intense guy - he dresses flamboyantly, and every gesture he makes seems over the top. The world is going to be his, and he's just going to take it - nothing will stand in his way. He's more clumsy and emotional than most calm mobsters we normally see in crime films, often having outbursts. He's also a little...odd, and seems to have a fetish for his sister, and she seems aware of this as well. It's definitely a different look at a successful crime boss.

I know the '80s were not that long ago, but it's easy to forget what crime movies were like before super famous ones like The Godfather and Scarface. To be honest, I'm not sure that I can even talk about it with any authority - I probably saw more movies influenced by Scarface before I ever saw Scarface. Personally, though, there is something about Scarface that still feels current to me. I guess I'm sensitive to violence, and I found myself wincing at many scenes in this movie. Tony still seemed way more intense and unpredictable than many other criminals I've watched more recently. It always felt pretty new to me, and it didn't feel dated to me watching it tonight.

I love that Tony is such a different sort of character. He's sort of uncomfortable to watch, because he doesn't have as many qualities that we envy. Sometimes I envy the characters in mafia movies, because there is something appealing about that cool control that they have. I never envied Tony. He has no control, and he is not very slick. He's not really smart in a practical way, but he is intelligent. He's got a lot of vices, and weird ones, not just boozing or cheating on his wife. It makes him strange, but also more interesting to watch, I think. One of the great strengths of this film is that it is so very different from other crime movies, because Tony is such a different character.


De Palma isn't the most subtle director, but he is a great one. His style, full of over-the-top violence and drama is perfect for this character and this story. Ebert says it well when he says that De Palma is not one for small gestures. He's got a great style, and it really shines here. Oddly enough I often think of this as an Oliver Stone film, because he wrote it. The dialogue is astoundingly good, and he wrote such rich, flawed, engaging characters. I just think it works so well in this movie - like it might be too much for different actors or a different director, but here it plays out really well. Pacino is ok going into over-the-top territory, just like De Palma, and they both can handle the material so well. When Wall Street 2 was coming out, I heard a fascinating little story that I think of now whenever I think of Oliver Stone. Shia LaBeouf was suggesting that he read a line a different way because he found it too repetitive to say "look at yourself in a mirror". Oliver Stone did not agree. "I like mirror. I wrote Scarface. Go f*ck yourself," he told him (from here). I believe this. I would say that too, had I written Scarface. And he deserves to say this, because you don't argue with a writer that is this talented. Ever. I wish I had that power.

I really need to get some sleep, and I feel like I'm out of interesting things to say about this movie! The Blu-ray is coming out soon, and I'm excited to buy it and watch it again already! I wish it was out in time for my project, but alas. It's a long movie, but it's so enjoyable and different. I think the new Blu-ray release will be a great excuse for people to revisit this famous movie :)

Have any thoughts on Scarface? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Links:
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Scarface
Buy or rent it on Amazon

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