Scarface (1983): De Palma’s Crime Gangster Epic, Starring Al Pacino in a Bravura Performance

Exquisitely shot, with excessive stylistic touches of sex, drugs, and violence, “Scarface” represents Brian De Palma at his best and most extreme.
Grade: A- (****1/2 out of *****)
Scarface
Scarface - 1983 film.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Based on the classic 1932 gangster film of the same title, which was directed by Howard Hawks, the screenplay was written by Oliver Stone, who follows basic structure and the plot of Ben Hecht’s source material almost to the letter

Al Pacino plays two-bit Cuban hood Tony Montana, who makes his way into the U.S., where he and his friend Manny Ray (Stephen Bauer) soon enter the world of crime. They murder a political figure for drug dealer Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia) to get their green cards and are soon on his payroll.

Tony’s elimination of rival Colmbian drug dealers gives him a more prominent role in the organization. His duties now include serving as chauffeur to Lopez’s beautiful but drug-addicted wife, Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer). In no time, he seduces Elvira and then marries her.

Tony’s other female obsession is his sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Tony’s feelings for his sister are incestuous, and he dominates her, refusing her to let her date other men.

After a bad business deal and an argument over Elvira, Lopez attempts to have Tony killed. However, Tony kills the assassins and Lopez, and becomes the most powerful drug lord in Florida.

Once at the top, the real problems begin. Manny is secretly dating Gina (though warned no to). Elvira has increasingly become a zombie-like drug addict, and Tony’s money is not earning the interest it should be. Moreover, Tony himself has become selfish, paranoid, and addict to his own “good stuff.”

Jammed with action sequences and tense moments, the film depicts the seediest aspects of the new American underworld in Miami, right after the mass Cuban immigration, which changed the city completely.

Stone’s script is full of twists and turns, following gangster movie conventions, while still allowing De Palma to demonstrate his bravura style, turning Scarface from just a generic remake into a more personal film that possesses merits of its own.

Arguably, with the exception of “Carrie” and “Dressed to Kill,” his skills with the camera and in the editing room have seldom been this impressive.

The movie contains many excessive and over-the-top images. One of the most memorable compositions is an overhead shot of Pacino soaking in an obscenely large bathtub.

Along with the high-voltage action sequences, the film offers excellent acting, from the entire ensemble.

The film represents the big screen debuts of Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, both showing great promise. The image of Pfeiffer as Elvira, thin and pale, coming down in a glass elevator, wearing an aqua sheath, her eyes ruined already. A nymph turned into a witch, she begins as the film’s moral intelligence before deteriorating into an ultra-cynical drug addict.

But it’s Pacino’s movie from beginning to end, and he grabs the opportunity. Outgoing, randy, and all show-off, Pacino is both hilarious and delirious with his Cuban accent, coke snorting, and the sinuousness of his own big talent. He immerses himself completely in a role, endowing it with riches of detail.

Offering a grand visceral and emotional experience, “Scarface” is gripping from start to finish, even if it’s operatic in style, and overdone in theme, due to Oliver Stone’s script.

David Thomson has described “Scarface” an authentic black comedy, with red for blood, white for cocaine, and an overall smeared look that’s true to Miami.

DVD: Scarface: Platinum Edition

A two-disc edition of “Scarface,” featuring bigger guns, bigger explosions, and bigger sounds, literally. Every sound effect in the film has been replaced and digitally remastered for this ultimate “Scarface” experience. The new platinum edition offers additional new bonus features and especially designed, highly collectible packaging that combine to make it an extraordinary event.

DVD bonus features

Scarface Scorecard:

The number of times the “F” word is used and the number of bullets fired.

Deleted Scenes: Over 20 minutes of deleted scenes.

Making of Scarface: The Video Game:

A behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the video game.

The World of Tony Montana:

The decadent world of the ultimate gangster, his luxurious and extravagant life in the underworld.

Scarface: The Rebirth

Actor Al Pacino, director De Palma, producer Bregman, and screenwriter Stone examine the history of Scarface, from the original 1932 classic to shooting the script.

Scarface: Creating

A look at the controversial making of Scarface, the triumphs and struggles experienced by the filmmakers, including the shooting of the chainsaw scene, location changes, the producer’s battles to gain an “R” rating.

Scarface: TV Version Montage

A revealing montage of film clips that contrasts the theatrical release to the network version of “Scarface.”

Cast

Al Pacino as Tony Montana: a Cuban refugee who becomes a wealthy drug lord
Steven Bauer as Manny Ray: Tony’s friend and right-hand man
Michelle Pfeiffer as Elvira: Frank Lopez’s wife, who later marries Tony Montana
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Gina: Tony’s sister, of whom he is overprotective
Robert Loggia as Frank Lopez: Miami drug lord who takes Tony under his wing
Miriam Colon as Mama Montana: Tony’s disapproving mother
F. Murray Abraham as Omar: Frank’s right-hand man who is skeptical of Tony
Paul Shenar as Alejandro Sosa: a Bolivian drug lord and supplier for Tony
Harris Yulin as Bernstein: a crooked cop on Lopez’s payroll who tries to extort Tony
Angel Salazar as Chi Chi: a friend of Tony
Arnaldo Santana as Ernie: a bodyguard of Frank’s, who later works for Tony
Pepe Serna as Angel: a friend of Tony
Michael P. Moran as Nick the Pig: an underling of Tony
Al Israel as Hector the Toad: an associate of Omar
Dennis Holahan as Banker: a banker used by Tony to launder his money
Mark Margolis as Shadow: a Sosa henchman
Michael Alldredge as Sheffield: Tony’s lawyer
Ted Beniades as Seidelbaum: an undercover cop

Credits:

Directed by Brian De Palma
Produced by Martin Bregman
Screenplay by Oliver Stone
Music by Giorgio Moroder
Cinematography John A. Alonzo
Edited by Jerry Greenberg, David Ray

Production distribution: Universal Pictures

Release date: December 1, 1983 (New York); December 9, 1983 (U.S.)

Running time: 170 minutes
Budget about $30-$35 million
Box office: $66 million