Scarface (1983): Brian De Palma's Unforgiving Portrayal of American Drug Mafia of the 1980s

Al Pacino delivers a tour de force starring as Tony Montana

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

brian de palma, scarface posters, 1983, al pacino
Scarface (1983)- By Brian de Palme
Our Rating: 9.0
IMDb Ratings: 8.3
Genre: Crime  | Drama  |  Thriller
CastAl Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, Steven Bauer
Country: USA
Language: English | Spanish
Runtime: 170 min
ColorColor (Technicolor)

Summary: In 1980 Miami, a determined Cuban immigrant takes over a drug cartel while succumbing to greed.

Brian De Palma's 1983 movie, Scarface, depicts cinema at its most macabre, and not for a second does Oliver Stone's cut-throat screenplay go awry in its unforgiving attempt to limn the naked reality associated with drug mafia and the kingpins who govern it. Brian De Palma's unquenchable thirst to mimic the gore reality on the celluloid didn't go well with the MPAA, which rated even the highly censored third cut of the Scarface as 'X'. Brian De Palma and the producer Martin Bergman arranged a hearing with the MPAA and roped in a panel of experts including some narcotics officers, who testified the Scarface's verisimilitude to the conditions prevalent in the drug underworld. Their testimonies greatly convinced the members of the rating board, who eventually condescended to give an 'R' rating to the aforesaid third cut of Scarface. Brian De Palma used the pervasive kerfuffle as a subterfuge to release the unedited original version of the movie instead of the curtailed one and kept this fact surreptitious for months until Scarface was released on videocassettes. 

al pacino as tony montana in scarface (1983), al pacino scarface, famous pose sitting on chair, Directed by Brian De Palma
Al Pacino in Scarface (1983)
A remake of a 1932 classic of the same name, Scarface portrays the life of a young, tempestuous Cuban émigré named Tony Montana, highlighting his sanguinary journey from being a thug to becoming a kingpin of drug mafia. Montana's story is one of rise and fall, trust and deceit, love and hatred, greed and lust, but most importantly: life and death. He is a hapless victim of the vicissitudes of his time; a product of his tainted conscience and naked ambition. As the modern-day Macbeth, Montana is the quintessential anti-hero of American cinema: he adores his friends and family, but is unforgiving to his foes. 

michelle pfeiffer scarface, mobster's moll
Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface (1983)
Brian De Palma took yet another risk by choosing Al Pacino, who was then going through a lean patch in his career, to play Montana's part in Scarface. And, Pacino was too smart to let the opportunity go by. He delivered a thumping performance, one that ranks up there with the very best in cinema. Pacino took few months off to prepare himself for the role and to perfect his Cuban accent. It is apparent that Pacino used all his talent and guile to give Montana an ineffable charm and an element of frenzy, which not only brought Montana to life, but also made the portrayal singularly remarkable. Even today, Pacino's breathtaking performance manages to hold the viewer in a transfixion right from the movie's beginning till the end. In fact, it's clear from the very first scene itself (the first scene in which Pacino is interrogated by the police for being a Cuban emigrant) that Pacino was on an inexorable mission to outperform not only his contemporaries, but also himself. He punctiliously took care of the nuances and the subtleties in mannerisms needed for a portrayal as exorbitantly demanding as Montana's. As Tony Montana, Pacino not only substantiated his acting genius and answered his critics once and for all, but also established Montana as a cult figure in American cinema. Pacino's tour de force performance is well supported by the rest of cast Here, I would like to make a special mention of Michelle Pfeiffer and Steven Bauer. Pfeiffer looks absolutely ravishing in her intense portrayal of the quintessential, uber-sexy mobster's moll. The chemistry between Pfeiffer and Pacino is scintillating, and at times, awe-inspiring.

Al pacino in scarface bloody finale, 1983, tony montana, talk to my little friend, directed by Brian De Palma
A Still from Scarface's Sanguinary Climax
Scarface serves to be a highlight reel of some of the most graphic and grotesque sequences ever caricatured in cinema. The scene in which Tony Montana affirms his innocence and loyalty to the drug kingpin Frank Lopez elevates cinema to a new zenith, while the Macbeth like climax gives the movie an operatic feel that is seldom seen in cinema. Scarface marked the upsurge of a new force in cinema: the triumvirate of De Palma, Stone and Pacino. Almost three decades have passed since Scarface, but Al Pacino, Brian De Palma and Oliver Stone still enjoy a global iconic status as they continue to enthrall the audiences worldwide with their idiosyncratic cinematic styles. Scarface has become a prototype in modern cinema and is one heck of a cinematic experience, but is definitely not meant for the faint-hearted, or the sycophantic adherents of conservative cinema.
Note: This review is a part of Scenes of Crime Blogathon and is published under the category, Mobsters. Scarface (1983) features my all-time favorite Al Pacino performance. The formidable trio of Brian De Palma, Oliver Stone and Al Pacino reigns supreme. 

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  

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  1. Scarface is undoubtedly Pacino's greatest performance on the celluloid. Your review actually brought back some old memories. Alas, they don't make such movies anymore!

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  6. Another great review of my favorite movie. Al Pacino gives a legendary performance. You are right, the movie is not for faint-hearted people.

  7. One of my all time favorites, Pacino was a knockout here. This movie was fast,furious, crackling with a raw energy that hit you hard. Great review, as much a knockout as the movie is.

  8. My all-time favorite over-the-top performance that in my opinion stands head and shoulders above the rest (the movie's final sequence is just spellbinding). A near second has to be Daniel Day-Lewis's performance in There Will Be Blood.

  9. Interesting take on the film.

    I do, however, feel that there are times in this document where the word usage far outweighs the need for the review. Basically, it's not a science or history fair project. Sometimes it's just good to read the piece without having to refer to a dictionary while reading (ex. punctiliously, kerfuffle). Ebert even minimizes his wording or he describes it more clearly. I can appreciate the english language as others do. I feel that you will have an audience but a wider audience will appreciate words that are more widely used or easily adopted into context. I honestly had no idea where some of the sentences were headed and that's rare for me.

    I applaud the direction of the piece once I dig deeper. Many people give Scarface partial kudos and then instantly say that the movie is "flawed". I only think that they say it because they hear others using the word. I can't say that I remember a movie where this description was used so many times.


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