Thursday, 12 August 2010

SCARFACE (1983)- 4 1/2 STARS

"He loved the American Dream. With a vengeance"

Through my emergence into film, the gangster genre really excited me with its strong use of volatile language and rip-roaring violence. Having watched The Godfather trilogy a few years back, a sudden urge to watch these types of films got me in the mood, and so Scarface (1983) was next on my list having been recommended it by others. What differs it to The Godfather trilogy and other gangster films is that it's a culturally phenomenal film which has become quoted by so many and features memorable scenes and bloated up action that have helped it achieve a big following after it struggled for great acclaim back in 1983. It is a tale of ferocious greed, corruption, and power. The darker side of the fabled "American Dream" which becomes the consensus of the film from the very start. Director Brian De Palma stirs the film into action with its various characters led by a raw, energetic performance from Al Pacino as the Cuban immigrant Tony Montana who entertains and captivates the audience to great heights with his fiery mannerisms making him less subtle and more maniacal than other Pacino characters like Michael Corleone. The film allows us to follow Montana in his rise towards his height at the top from arriving in America as a refugee to becoming a hard-hitting drug lord but faces many tough obstacles along the way. He will do ANYTHING to achieve it through being violent, lying, stealing and thieving glory.

It is the early 1980's and the rules regarding political changes are brought through when dictator Fidel Castro made an agreement to send Cuban civilians who had family in America over there to be reunited with them. However he also arranged for criminals of the Cuban nation to also be deported leading to mass controversy regarding America having to put up with the low-life criminals now trying to settle into their country. Miami, Florida is the place where the Cubans are believed to be trying to settle in. When we first see Cuban Tony Montana being interrogated in a customs office, his cocky responses to the officers present us a man determined to make a name for himself in America, knowing that he'll do anything to remain there. With the help of his loyal friend Manny (Steven Bauer), the pair arrange to have a political figure killed during a refugee camp riot, so that they can gain a green card to settle into the country properly. They soon get involved with a couple of Colombian drug dealers (one of them played by Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham) who seek some help in making a deal with a rival dealer about money and drugs. Unfortunately the deal goes wrong with Tony being held hostage in the dealer's apartment and having to watch a friend of his suffer brutally at the hands of a powering chainsaw although Manny soon saves the day allowing Tony to gain vengeance in his own manner. The pair are then hired by drug lord Frank Lopez (played with suave tenacity by Robert Loggia) to undertake various objectives which includes Tony travelling to Bolivia to meet fellow drug lord Alejandro Sousa (Paul Shenar) and arrange Frank's business deals.

However during this whole process, Tony's more endearing side gets to him, firstly setting his eyes on Frank's wife Elvira (a sizzling but suffer able performance from Michelle Pfeiffer) who clearly is frustrated at being a gangster's mole but takes pleasure in being involved with cocaine and less exciting stuff. Tony though is determined to eventually win her over no matter how much it will take. His second more personal aim is reuniting with his family being his mother (Miriam Colom) who is ashamed of having him for a son because of his criminal life and younger sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrotonio) who is delighted to see her brother again and clearly a father-daughter between her and Tony is notable for siblings but in a more 'wired' view that is brought up again later in the film. Clearly Tony has his issues with love compared to Manny who believes that he is a sex goddess with the ladies and has flirtatious feelings about Gina but also has his duties to Tony. As the film starts to progress to the half-way stage, Tony is severely tested when he decides to prove his metal for being a major figure in the drug industry by making deals with Sousa without Frank's consent and soon he is ousted by his boss and tries to make it alone. That soon leads to one of many memorable scenes in the whole film in the nightclub where Tony has a nightmare evening, such as being ignored by Elvira and confronting his sister when he sees her getting frisky with a guy. Tony is then almost assassinated at the place and soon seeks vengeance with Frank the main target. Upon gaining revenge, Tony with the help of Elvira and Manny attempts to build his empire in Miami leading to the well-orchestrated montage (with a booming tune of Push It to the Limit) of how Tony becomes powerful through moving into a majestic mansion, recruiting new men and earning a lot of money through his partnership with Sousa.

Ultimately of course the price of fame e.g. 'The World Is Yours'; proves too much a factor for Tony as he is corrupted by his own powers such as becoming disrespectful to Elvira and then eventually being threatened with jail after being caught money-laundering. His bid to rehabilitate himself from the problem is to help Sousa and his fellow drug lords with killing a political speaker in New York but his more humane side complicates the objective. Things are even more complicated by what his sidekick Manny has been getting up to with Gina in one of the main twists of the film as Tony's paranoia gets to him while Sousa decides to plot revenge leading to one of the great endings of film, involving guns, drugs and loud one-liners that have made Scarface become a part of rap group culture over the last 25-30 years. So many scenes in the film have been copied and become part of satirical situations that are surprising considering the film's raw and dangerous story. What Brian De Palma got right was making the film as explosive and foul-mouthed as possible while casting several brilliant actors in their roles as well as appointing future Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone as writer for the film. A lot was mentioned about Pacino in the film and some consider this his most famous role but certainly it was a surprise that he never earned much awards recognition for the performance which whilst slightly over-the-top still allows us to understand the rise and fall of his character. There is nothing really positive about the film besides the characters positive expectations of themselves especially Tony. Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio both give stirring roles as the two women in his life with Pfeiffer especially benefiting from the film and becoming one of the biggest stars of the 80s/90s. Steven Bauer as Manny is not just a pretty face but adds subtlety to his role and is wanting to obey Tony at all times but ends up making a bad move that proves crucial in the film's climax, whilst Robert Loggia's role as desperate boss Frank is warranted by his character's demise for which all he wanted was the money. Greed killed him, as it has killed so many people.

There are many several scenes that have become legendary in many viewer's minds whether it be the chainsaw sequence or helicopter hanging scene or of course the film's thrilling climax of Tony fending off Bolivian hitmen in his mansion. Though set in Miami but actually shot in Los Angeles, the film is marvelously filmed with bright colours and adds to the setting well, hence the film's mass popularity especially in Florida which was evident from my holiday there in 2005. It is well edited too especially through the 'rise to the top' montage plus the many weapon scenes presented especially in the film's climax. Giorgio Moroder's music though a little dated is still dynamic with the way the film's cultural side is explored as well as the many songs used including a couple from then 21 year old Elizabeth Daily as well as Deborah Harry. Some criticism of the film would have to include the length of it which would probably annoy impatient viewers and Tony's paranoia makes him yet another character who we struggle to sometimes understand through his motives. Nevertheless to conclude this exhilarating gem, the aim of Tony's mission in the film is to become big in America whether it be through crime and that is summed up well in his car discussion with Manny in which he "wants the world, and everything in it". The world of course is his, if only for a short while.


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