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Scarface
1983 - R - 174 Mins.
Director: Brian DePalma
Producer: Martin Bernstein
Written By: Oliver Stone
Starring: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfieffer, Robert Loggia, F. Murray Abraham
Review by: John Ulmer
   
"Scarface" chronicles the life of a Cuban refugee who came to America in May, 1980, when Fidel Castro opened the harbor at Mariel Bay, Cuba, with the apparent intention of letting some of his people join their families back in America. As the movie's opening intro explains, it soon became obvious that Castro was doing little more than sending the scum of Cuba to America in hopes of ridding his domain of filth. Of the 125,000 Cubans who came to America that year, an estimated 25,000 had criminal backgrounds.

Antonio Montana (Al Pacino) was one of those criminals who came to America from Cuba and successfully set up his own kingdom of cocaine, wealth and greed. We see him in the first few minutes of the film being interviewed by police regarding his background. He's asked about the scar that stretches from his eyebrow down to his cheek. He gives all the right responses and is sent off to a quarantine camp along with his long-time friend, Manny (Steven Bauer). After murdering a man in the camp as a favor for a Mafia kingpin named Frank (Robert Loggia), the two buddies are given green cards and released from the camp. Eventually they land another job for Frank. Their wealth and greed starts to grow.

Every time we see Tony Montana he is a bit better off. Better clothes, better means of transportation. He visits his mother at her small little home in Miami to show off his fortune. He tries to give her money but she says that people like him give bad names to the hard-working Cubans (like herself) who have come to America and work legitimately for a living.

But Tony's sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) doesn't think so. She adores her brother and accepts 1,000 dollars from him as a present. But it backfires--soon Gina is hanging out in the fancy clubs and getting felt up by men. Tony sees this and anger lights up in his eyes like fire. This happens twice in the movie. Both times are in regards to his sister. Manny explains to Gina that Tony doesn't want her to turn out like him because she is the only thing pure left in his life.

Soon Tony is so powerful that he overthrows Frank and marries his girl (Michelle Pfeiffer), who becomes so depressed that she sleeps all day and snorts all night. "Nothing exceeds like excess. You should know that, Tony."

"Scarface" is based on Howard Hawks' 1932 film of the same title that starred Paul Muni as the title character. Both movies were accused of being overly violent. Both characters from the films had a strange infatuation with their sisters. Both characters fell in love with their boss' girlfriend. But the similarities end there. The 1932 version was not about a Cuban, it was not about an empire built on drugs, and it was not very similar by any account. Al Pacino said that Muni's performance inspired him to become Tony Montana. And while some critics accuse Pacino's performance of being over the top and too flamboyant, think about this: His character is a Cuban refugee who came to America and killed people for a living before taking over an empire built on drugs and crime. He lives in fear of not only others but himself. As his life proceeds he snorts cocaine so often that he can barely think. Then he has the underlying guilt of his life bearing down on his shoulders. How over the top would you act?

The movie was written by Oliver Stone, who completed a final draft after many attempts by other writers, including one attempt by the director of the movie, Brian DePalma, who claims that his script was not going the way he wanted it to go. Stone made the story his, and succeeds on almost all levels of storytelling. Back when "Scarface" was released drugs, violence and big blowouts at the end of a movie were hardly run-o'-the-mill. The 160 + F-words in the film were not exactly standard, either. But the story is involving and sad. It is the best film about the American Dream ever made. Tony Montana wanted the world, and when he finally got what he wanted, he realized that even the world was not enough. Perhaps the best and most important scene in "Scarface" is the subtlest one--when Tony is sitting at his desk after he has killed Manny. He has everything he ever dreamed about and wanted in front of him--drugs, drinks, a luxurious mansion, a beautiful wife. Yet it isn't enough for him. And the reason he sits there in silence for so long is because it is then that he realizes happiness does not come from material wealth, but from the inside. And, to be honest, Tony Montana doesn't really have much of a soul inside. And he knows it.

"Scarface" opens with its own theme song and closes with it, as well. It is more than just coincidence--when it is played in the beginning of the movie, it is during the time of Mariel Bay, and hope is everywhere for criminals. When it plays at the end, we have witnessed the American Dream from start to finish. When it plays at the end, there is no hope left for anyone.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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