• 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).

The first shot of the film after the opening credits is a wonderous long take. Tony Montana (Pacino of course) is seated, detained and questioned as the immigration officers (never fully shown) take turns passing in front of him (and the camera) as the camera rotates. De Palma stays on Pacino for the duration of the shot.

  • 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 dedication to the crane shot- here- floating from the deceased Rebenga character in the street

the pastels and glow of Miami make for the perfect backdrop

  • De Palma’s camera drifts up the stairs at the Sun Ray Hotel – and then back to the car during the cocaine deal.

De Palma uses the split diopter to great effect at the door during the deal with the Columbians.

  • 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.

De Palma bounces shots off the mirrors at the booth in the Babylon club—it is a mini little The Lady from Shanghai.

  • 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 siege of Montana’s mansion finale makes for an ambitious set piece. One of the great compositions in the film is at the 163-minute mark with the doors acting as a frame within the frame.

  • 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