- Brian De Palma refashions Howard Hawks’ 1932 film for the back half of the twentieth century. Instead of Prohibition, bootleggers, Italians, Chicago and the Tommy Gun—this is Castro exiles, cocaine, Cubans and Miami.
- “Prohibition” is in the text- tax evasion and even Capone.
- The cast and crew surrounding De Palma matches his brazen style and undeniable talent. The film is written by Oliver Stone, scored by Giorgio Moroder (these two back from winning Oscars in 1978 working with Alan Parker on Midnight Express), and acted by Al Pacino. The film is directed, written, scored and acted to the extreme- like Tony Montana himself- glorious excess.
- Moroder’s synthesizer score has two marvelous themes introduced during the mixture of blood red lettered titles and the documentary footage of the refuges and Castro. The third, more tender, theme arrives later for love interest Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer in her big breakthrough role) as she enters the elevator in Frank Lopez’s (Robert Loggia) house—as well as for Tony’s sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio).
- De Palma goes to the crane shot often in Scarface– including one beautiful shot early as he captures a ton of Cuban exiles rioting under the highway. The camera floats from the deceased Rebenga in the street. Later- it moves from the billboard of Miami to the diner. This is the story of the American dream turned into a nightmare (with the political allegations coming from Stone)- a sort of sinister cousin to Coppola’s The Godfather. Stone will also redo excess and the American dream a few years later in Wall Street (1987).
- De Palma’s camera drifts up the stairs at the Sun Ray Hotel – and then back to the car during the cocaine deal.
- The crane is used again down from the window (the camera eavesdropping from a window like Hitchcock) to the car—and the audio work is inspired- it picks up the pop music as the crane moves to the car—and when it moves back up to the window it picks up the chainsaw audio.
- A nice zoom from the dance floor at the Babylon club to the table
- De Palma’s direction is more muted in the second half—this is pure speculation—but the 170-minute run time is the longest of De Palma’s career. He is one of those rare auteurs that tries to conceive every scene cinematically (or at least his best work does)- and that is just a lot of time to fill with that sort of stamina of stylistic energy.
- Stone’s salacious and justifiably memorable dialogue is a treat- money, power and women. Stone (again- a perfect match for De Palma and Pacino) is not subtle- a blunt instrument- “I’ll bury those cockaroaches” and “say ‘hello’ to my little friend”.
- The slow motion zoom sequences are tied to Tony’s obsession (hard not to mention incest) with his sister.
- The ice cold, perfect-looking Pfeiffer is smart casting as she calls things “boring” and does endless amounts of cocaine. She does get a nice, big blow up scene with Pacino at dinner in a restaurant.
- The film is not perfect- there is just no artistic value to the Rocky III-like montage with the “Scarface: Push it to the Limit” song written for the film.
- Pacino is going for it—he does not land every punch he throws but it is still, overall, a victory for him. Roger defends it as well (in a four-star review)- “What were Pacino’s detractors hoping for? Something internal and realistic?” https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-scarface-1983 This from Rob Gonsalves is masterfully put as well “Pacino, of course, goes way over the top and through the floor on the other side.” https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1397&reviewer=416
- This is the film for 1980s excess, cocaine and paranoia—Tony’s world falls part as he loses his business with Sosa, his relationship with Elvira, the lives of his sister and best friend Manny (a very strong Steven Bauer).
- The final shot is a crane shot of course- De Palma moving from the dead body to the “World is Yours” sign then to the top of the stairs and ceiling- this is Hitchcock’s crane shot from Young and Innocent or Notorious– absolutely genius.
- A Must-See film – top five of the year quality
For a few years I would have agreed on MS, I think it’s a MP but definitely close. It’s a plot that on paper sounds like a bunch of cliches but De Palma tells it with operatic ambition. A few points:
– Perhaps Scarface is not the 1st film that pops in your mind when you think of mise-en-scene but I love the
many of interior shots of Tony’s mansion, the mise-en-scene, color design, and symmetry is incredible.
Check out this image:
Or the expressive use of color (dark orange) in scene when Tony and Manny kill Frank
– the cultural impact is undeniable, Scarface video games, reference in rap music and hip hop culture, some of
the most quotable lines. Despite the plot being made up of many cliches there are some really great and
memorable characters like Hector the Toad, Sosa, Frank Lopez, etc.
– regarding his sister I agree on the use of slow motion makes you question Tony’s intentions, I have always
gone back and forth with this, is he just a protective older brother or is there something more going on, hard
to say but it definitely plants a seed in your mind. He does end up regretting the killing of Manny. The use of
slow motion made me think of Taxi Driver where Scorsese uses slow motion to highlight Travis Bickle racism.
– The way the camera floats in the scene where Tony 1st meets Elvira, she descends from the second floor
while Frank laughs his face off cracking jokes (I loved Frank ha) oblivious to Elvira’s presence while the
camera moves in on a transfixed Tony. Interesting on the 2 different approaches De Palma takes in this
scene vs the use of slow motion with Tony’s sister
@James Trapp- Thank you for the kind words and this is a really strong addition to the page here. Thanks for all the work you put in.
I love the two act structure used here, basically the rise and fall. What are some of the best two-act films. A few off the top of my head:
High and Low (1963)
Lost Highway (1997)
Full Metal Jacket (1987) – the 1st half is so great that I think it still deserves to be on the list even with the not terrible but mediocre 2nd half
Boogie Nights (1997) like Scarface its a rise and fall tale
Psycho (1960) Marion Crane killed off not quite halfway through film but close
A Clockwork Orange – this one in particular is very strong formally as the 2nd half in a way mirrors the 1st half in which all of Alex’s previous victims get revenge on him
@James Trapp- Interesting- Boogie Nights gets its rise and fall from Goodfellas (and many others of course). Many of Scorsese’s (Casino, Wolf of Wall Street). Midsommar is not split in half and far as running time, but there is a clear Winter vs. Summer structure. 2019’s Waves from Trey Edward Shults has a two act structure as well.