Retroreview: Scarface

Scarface is a movie that has been loved and hated from the same reason: it’s over the top. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being over the top. Kill Bill was over the top and it worked in a fused action and comedy sort of way. The Passion of the Christ was over the top and it was deeply touching. But Scarface is annoyingly over the top; and not with the blood, the language, or the horrible music selections, but with Al Pacino. For better or worse he has created one of the most memorable characters in film history.

Al Pacino’s Tony Montana is a ferocious, capricious, greedy “all American” gangster like no other. He comes out of the starting gate with guns blasting and doesn’t relent. Sounds exciting right? But it’s not. There is something incredibly dull with his character. Maybe it’s his one sidedness. Oh wait, that can’t be it; he’s over protective of his sister.

What a good brother. And not to mention the soft spot he has in his heart for women and children as we learn two and a half hours into the movie. Let’s not knock Al Pacino, because he is an incredibly gifted actor, with a few over-acted performances. But there is something about Tony Montana that, as a viewer, evokes indifference. Maybe because he’s a pawn. Maybe it is Oliver Stone’s (screenwriter) hand moving the pieces.

Stone’s perversion of the American dream script has created a polarizing effect in me. At times the script is brilliant in how it characterizes the American obsession and American greed. After all, isn’t Tony just a microcosm of the American subconscious unleashed? Wait, that was too much. Then there are times that the script feels too angry, too much unnecessary aggression.

And then there it is: the movie’s fault is its running time. If you didn’t see the movie when it originally debut, then you are subject to see it after all the hype, which can be detrimental to the viewer. And so you sit and watch it for the first time, perhaps swayed by pop-culture , and thoroughly enjoy it. But it never crosses your mind that the theme of the movie and Tony’s fate was sealed an hour and a half into the movie. The rest is redundant. And after repeated viewings it’s annoying.

Now, Brian De Palma is an incredibly talented director when it comes to style; but he seems to not care about much else in his movies. In this movie, it seems he gave up his control of the soundtrack. It is, for lack of a better word, cheesy. Sure it’s an 80’s time capsule; but one that I would like to see buried for as long as I’m around. In another one of his movies, Snake Eyes, he seems to not care about the script. And yet that movie is filled with some very cool stylized scenes.

Scarface can thrill, excite and divert, but ultimately it will annoy. The long running time, the over the top antics; it makes you want to scream back and say “I got it! You’re tough; I’ll stay out of your way! corrupts, I know!” Nonetheless, the climax of the movie is memorable and may heal some of the annoying cramps you may have received from watching.

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