SCARFACE — CLASSIC FILM PICK
"Scarface" was the pinnacle of Brian De Palma's wildly uneven career. Al Pacino's exceptional performance as a fictional drug lord named Tony Montana is the stuff of cinema legend. Pacino creates a dramatically pure symbol of an ambitious immigrant’s rise through Florida’s drug-fueled economy of outrageous (overnight) wealth. That De Palma's ultra-violent depiction of Miami's early '80s cocaine trade barely scratches the surface of the era's bewildering brutality and public killings that built the city as we know it today, only adds to the picture’s notoriety as a scalding cinematic document of a dark chapter in American history.
Tony Montana is a Cuban ex-con refugee whose criminal aspirations know no limits. When Pacino delivers the film's famous opening dialogue, in a Florida detention center, several generations worth of social oppression are wrapped up in Montana's thick Cuban accent that he uses to viciously defy authority. Tony Montana is a super-anti-hero. He talks about his familiarity with America via his U.S.-born father. Tony confronts his captors with a quick sarcasm born of such furious desperation that the audience is involuntarily seduced even as we are verbally assaulted.
"I am Tony Montana, a political prisoner from Cuba and I want my fucking human rights now."
"There's nothing you can do to me that Castro has not already done."
Tony is a master of his own destiny.
Written by Oliver Stone, "Scarface" can be viewed as an extension of "Midnight Express," the controversial (narratively embellished) prison-escape picture that Stone wrote for director Alan Parker.
Drugs represent an aspect of free-market capitalism fought over with an all-consuming obsession by authorities and criminals alike. "The World is Yours," flashes across the sky on a Goodyear blimp. It's an American propaganda message destined to be twisted up in the minds of such conspicuously jealous and greedy individuals as Tony Montana and the volatile criminals he cavorts with. Worse still, are his many rivals.
De Palma scares his audience with one of the most nerve-shattering scenes imaginable. Without giving it away, the scene involves a chainsaw used in an apartment bathroom for an unconventional purpose.
"Scarface" is a parable about the self-destruction of criminal success. It's a cinema of pure compulsion. Tony’s outrageous rise to wealth presages an even more dramatic decline that mirrors the economic arc of a country more invested in corporate profits than in culture and humanity.
Rated R. 170 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)