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Scarface - Blu-ray Review

Scarface

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

GIVEN the iconic nature of Brian De Palma’s Scarface now it seems difficult to remember that upon its initial release the film was heavily criticised for its hyper violence and graphic language.

A contemporary remake of Howard Hawks’ 1932 film of the same name, Scarface provides Al Pacino with one of his most explosive roles and remains essential viewing for any fan of gangster epics or great performance cinema.

Set in Miami in 1980, the film charts the rise and eventual fall of Cuban refugee Tony Montana, who comes to the US as a result of the Mariel Boatlift, and becomes a drug cartel kingpin during the cocaine boom of the 1980s.

Displaying an unrivalled combination of balls and brains, Montana overcomes early setbacks and betrayals to become a major player on the drugs scene, only to fail to remember one of his earliest lessons: not becoming hooked on his own supply.

Come the end of the film, Montana is a jittery, paranoid ghost of his former self, prone to outbursts of violence, whose decision not to carry out an assassination on behalf of a cartel triggers his demise in an orgy of violence at his mansion.

As Montana, Pacino is extraordinary. Occupying virtually every frame of this near three hour film, he is a maelstrom of violent energy. But also emotionally complex.

His rise to the top is as calculated as it is driven by bravado and good fortune. But it comes at personal expense.

We see in a brief scene with his mother how she has turned her back on him and how that makes him feel about himself, just as we see – at various points – the horrified despair of a man who realises that owning the world doesn’t necessarily make you happy.

Hence, while remembered for its equally iconic moments of violence – an early chainsaw sequence and the ‘say hello to my little friend’ finale – Scarface also stands out as an intense character study that plays to the strengths of its leading man.

The scenes between Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, as his wife, are extraordinarily intense, affording the actor the opportunity to tap into the humanity of a character struggling to retain any sense of self-worth in an environment dictated by excess.

But strong, too, are the scenes between Pacino and Steven Bauer’s Manolo, a best friend who also becomes shut out by Montana’s increased paranoia and his ill-advised feelings for Tony’s sister. There’s a bond between the two actors that borders on the brotherly, which makes the outcome of their relationship all the more shocking.

Robert Loggia, as drugs boss Frank Lopez, Paul Shenar as cartel kingpin Alejandro Sosa, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Tony’s sister Gina also stand out in a film that deserves to be remembered as much, if not more, for its performances than some of its iconic moments.

De Palma’s direction, meanwhile, perfectly encapsulates the empty excess of the ’80s while providing the inspiration for countless imitations and hip-hop heavyweights – even though their admiration for the Tony Montana way of life somehow misses the point.

Scarface may seem celebratory of that lifestyle while in the midst of the trappings that it brings its central characters, but it’s very much a cautionary tale that ruthlessly exposes the dangers – both mental and physical – of such excess.

Its final scene, as a dead Tony Montana lies in a pool of his own blood below a statue that reads ‘The World is Yours’ (his world and everyone within it similarly blown apart), delivers a cruel irony that hits home hard.

De Palma’s film is rightly now regarded as one of the great gangster movies of all-time and its Blu-ray release – which allows the sights and sounds of Miami to vividly come to life like never before – is a real treat for afficionados and newcomers alike.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 170mins
UK Triple Play Release (Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy): September 5, 2011