Review – Scarface (1983)

Scarface [1983]

Starring: Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, Steven Bauer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia
Director: Brian De Palma
Screenwriter: Oliver Stone

Everyone knows Scarface. At this point, the film has become a cult classic. Go into any CD and records store, comic book shop, etc., and flip through the posters, and you’ll find numerous ones of the film and its main character, Tony Montana. You’ll also hear and find plenty of references all over the place of the famous line, “Say hello to my little friend!” The question that pervades in this day and age, though, with any film considered “classic” or “cult”, or a combination of the two, really needs to be analyzed with the thought in mind, does it deserve such high esteem? Some of Scarface does. Though there’s just too much that doesn’t work.

As everyone knows, it’s a remake of the 1932 film, but has been transplanted to early 1980s Miami, and follows the rise of the Cuban émigré Tony Montana as he rises into power in the dark world of drugs and crime. There’s not really much more to explain, as it plays out more or less the way one would expect it to. He slowly rises to power, the money and power go to his head, he gets caught, he continues his way, and then it all falls apart because of hubris. It’s a classic story, for sure, but the material has been treaded so many times, and with such more success.

Much of what keeps Scarface from greatness is its length. It’s almost three hours long. Films of such a length need to earn the right to be that long. Scarface does not. There are numerous scenes that could have been shortened or even cut out, and the end result would probably have been a much tighter, more concise and more enjoyable film.

But there are some things to recommend. As a character study, it can be fascinating at times. Al Pacino as wonderful as always, and delivers the part as it needs to be played: without fear. A lesser actor might have ruined the entire film, so it’s a credit to Pacino that he’s able to pull it off, and keep us interested in the character himself despite the length. Brian De Palma certainly cares about the material, and I enjoyed some of the more over-the-top scenes, like a montage of Tony’s rise to fame as the song Push It To The Limit played.

I wish the film hadn’t tried to take itself so seriously so much of the time, but it can be fun, and certainly a good deal of it is entertaining. If it hadn’t been so long, I might have had higher praise for it. But as it stands, I can only recommend the film for hardcore Pacino fans.


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