If there’s one thing you can bet on seeing on the wall of a frat house, it’s this image:
This always gave me the wrong impression of Scarface. It’s been placed on a pedestal as the epitome of the 80’s action film, filled with drugs, women and excess. But I’m pleased upon my first viewing of the film to say that I loved it, and not for the reasons I thought I would.
Scarface revolves around Tony Montana; chronicling his rise from penniless immigrant to the most powerful man in the Florida drug trade. It would have been easy to shoot Scarface as a typical action flick, with plenty of guns, cars and sex; these things are all there, but director Brian de Palma and writer Oliver Stone instead present an astute character study. We see Montana’s rise to, and struggle with, power as a slow, gradual corruption. It’s wonderfully interesting, and told with a fantastic sense of pacing and structure. It’s just a little off-putting when you expect a less-talk-more-blood type of picture, but I loved it.
None of this would have worked had it not been for Al Pacino’s stunning performance. The man is in almost every minute of this three hour epic, and he never skips a beat. Montana is terrifying yet human, and you root for the man, no matter how despicable he truly is. Scarface is a Pacino showcase, as he owns every scene he’s a part of, and relegates the other cast members to the shadows of his performance.
Despite how surprisingly talky the movie is, there’s still action sequences. When they pop off, they’re spectacular. Everyone knows the final shootout sequence, but other moments were just as exciting. Take the early scene in the Colombian’s apartment, which was raw and exciting, setting the film’s gritty tone relatively early on. The calmer moments of the film impress visually as well. John A. Alonzo’s images heighten the action and the performances even further.
The bottom line is I was totally surprised by Scarface. I expected a testorone-injected bloodbath, but I got a concentrated and intelligent examination on the affects of the American dream in immigrant culture, coupled with a fascinating character study of a man corrupted by power. This all comes packaged with the thrilling elements that keep us watching through the slower areas.