Scarface (1983) / Action-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for graphic violence, nudity and language       Running Time: 170 min.

Cast: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio
Director:  Brian De Palma
Screenplay: Oliver Stone

Review published December 22, 2001

Brian De Palma's (Dressed to Kill, Phantom of the Paradise) updating of Scarface is one of those films that runs the gamut from "all-time favorite" to "worst film I've ever seen" among critics and non-critics alike.  Some love the ultra-violent nature while others loathe see it as the main detraction.  Some like the stylistic touches dolloped on by De Palma, while others feel it jars with the grittiness of the story.  Regardless of where you stand, it is still a memorable viewing experience, and while it may not please everyone, it is engaging enough to garner a reaction in anyone who sees it.

Admittedly, the main plot is predictable, and not too complex in structure.  Al Pacino (The Godfather Part II, Serpico) plays Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant and one of many criminals sent to the United States in 1980 by Fidel Castro claiming political asylum. He starts off as small time crook and works his way up to big time drug dealer in Miami.

Scarface is most memorable for the incredible performance by Pacino, and as a whole, it's a well-crafted, if somewhat overlong, morality tale. The sparkling screenplay by Oliver Stone (Conan the Barbarian, The Hand) is full of many memorable lines, while the direction by De Palma is less of the virtuoso style that is his usual custom, but is far from static. Yet, Scarface is a three hour film, and as such, does tend to have its share of lulls, resulting in scenes that are unnecessarily long, and for a film this grisly, some of the events that transpire seem too unbelievable to be taken seriously. Adding to the detraction is an unremarkable synthesized score by Giorgio Moroder (Superman III) , which brings a level of cheese to the production. Despite the film's substantial flaws, it remains very watchable due to Pacino's bombastic performance, a smart script, and a director that knows what he's doing stylistically, even if his editing skills left much to be desired.

Scarface is recommended for fans of Pacino, De Palma, or just gangster films in general.  Viewers that are turned off by excessive violence, as well as those that just abhor gangster flicks, are recommended to veer away from this, as there are some scenes even someone as hardened as I am had to look away from (especially a scene involving a chainsaw).  It's a very visceral form of filmmaking, and successful in that mode, though not to everyone's taste.

Qwipster's rating:

2001 Vince Leo