| By Brandon Colón |
Oliver Stone’s deeply investigative script plays like a Greek tragedy, with the hero coming from the wrong side of the tracks. And staying there. Pulsating with intensity, Scarface is the story of a Cuban rogue whose idea of a land of opportunity in America is a land to be ransacked for his own prosperity.
But even as he slices through the criminal world of Miami and establishes his own form of kingdom, Tony Montana’s character is destined to be his undoing. “The world is yours” becomes Tony’s ironic mantra, meaning of course that the world is “mine”…not yours.
He is not as astute as he thinks, he is not as immortal as he wants to be and he never realizes that he becomes his own worst enemy. Those who remain loyal to him are finally ravaged with him. This is an epic tale because it embodies the whole fucking thing of human aspiration, defiance, ambition and success – whilst showing how empty and hollow it can all be unless accompanied by something more benevolent and humane.
Al Pacino creates an untamed Tony Montana, and we are fascinated by him one minute, repelled the next. Our sympathies swing with his fortunes and his behavior. He was nominated for Best Actor at the Golden Globes, and in retrospect, it’s an award winning performance, not despite but because of its sustained size and power.
Calling his performance over the top is like blaming a banana for being too yellow. What did you expect? But it offended so many it never got a look at the Oscars. Of course, offending people isn’t a bad thing from a creative point of view, as long as you have something authentic and truthful to say.
And De Palma does. This is a scorching and brutal film about merciless people. Besides, they are all brutal, including the Americans and the “international jet set” types like Paul Shenar’s Sosa. It’s also the story of a man whose opportunism is equally an indictment of America’s corporate greed, represented by the bank that launders his millions.
In 1983, all of this was fresh, from the cocaine to the graphic, high-voltage violence. And it still has that visceral power, even though Tony Montana and the bloodshed have been duplicated dozens of times since.
Notable as career springboards for Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastroantonio, it is also a superb showcase for F. Murray Abraham in a role that immediately pre-dates his Oscar winning and career defining portrayal as Mozart’s nemesis, Salieri, in Amadeus – the film he made next (1984), after Scarface.
Seeing the film 35 years after its release doesn’t diminish its power and its purpose as a study for humanity. Brian De Palma is a controversial director because he tackles those core issues of human infirmities head on. His care for the performances, and his conscientious assiduity to the details are a testament to the cinematic ambitions that have made him so great.
He brings all his tricks together to create intuitive experiences for the audience, subverting the notions of heroes being good guys. In the end, we no longer sympathize with Tony – but once upon a time we did. Why was that?