Scarface (1983) Review

Almost thirty years after its original theatrical release, the brash eighties remake of Howard Hawks’ pioneering 1932 gangster movie Scarface has become a part of film, youth and criminal culture to such a degree that it almost seems redundant to question those who revel in reverence of it. But why is this film held in such high esteem? I’ll tell you why; because it is a film that pulls together a plethora of unassuming components to create an era defining spectacle that sits pretty (or ugly) in the middle of the eighties; between Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull – a glorious adios to the brooding dramatic cinema of the seventies in 1980 – and 1990’s Goodfellas, which welcomed the quicker paced editing-driven movies of the nineties.

So, what of the parts? Screenwriter Oliver Stone delivers an overwritten hodgepodge of ideas and unsubtle one-liners as a script. It has an over-long running time of almost three hours. The direction from Brian De Palma is clunky and cliché ridden. The soundtrack’s grotesque, grandiose electro-pop marathon gives any discerning listener a headache; and Giorgio Moroder’s synth bursts have dated the movie so badly that – lacking the operatic finesse of a film ten years older – it seems more aged than its gangster-canon predecessor The Godfather. The acting is over-the-top and most of this precipitates from Al Pacino as the malevolent lead character Tony Montana.

Perversely, it’s the combination of these negative elements that cause it to be a classic: The script delivers some of the most memorable and oft-quoted lines in cinema history (“Say ‘hello’ to my little friend!”) and is often cited as one of Stone’s great early achievements. The film never feels long in play and always seems like a good way to while away any afternoon or evening. The music – such as Paul Engemann’s ‘Push It to the Limit’ about chasing the American dollar featuring lo-tech drum machines – characterises the era of the movie so adeptly that it would be impossible to imagine it with any other tuneful splurges. Lead actresses Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio give performances that would elevate them both to the status of leading ladies in future films. And Al Pacino’s tragicomic anti-hero Tony Montana has, for better or worse, had movie-goers obsessed with the character since his inception almost thirty years ago.

The continued success of this movie could almost stand as an argument for the idea that a collection of wrongs just might make a right. *****

Review by Matt Henshaw


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