Scarface (1983)

Scarface (Brian De Palma, 1983)

This remake of more than fifty years later of the 1932 masterpiece by Howard Hawks, directed by Brian De Palma is probably one of the most overrated pictures in the History of Cinema.

Of the original film, De Palma only kept the names of the characters and the frenzy of Tony Montana (Al Pacino). Many cinephiles consider Pacino’s over the top acting and crazy-incestuous Tony Montana as one of his greatest performances. They should put Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and even The Godfather Part II in their DVD players before considering Scarface. His performance as the Latino mastermind of cocaine in Miami is nothing but annoying. De Palma deliberately asked Pacino to play a despicable character, but the acting got into over acting and in a persona that only inspire contempt and loath.

The message of Scarface is clearly on the moralist anti-drug side and the relenting excesses of the main character illustrate how pathetic and hegemonic the white powder drove him. The excesses of Scarface are probably the major negative aspect of the film. Like said before, the acting is excessive and the over aesthetics of De Palma’s directing are just getting annoyed. Like his master, Hitchcock, De Palma wants to show how he can master any scene and shoot it with the perfect camera angle. However, De Palma does the opposite a director like Scorsese did with his influences from Hitch. Instead of be inspired by them he simply copy them into his films and use them like if he was the mastermind behind those frames. He should have watched more Howard Hawks pictures before directing pictures. He could have understand how you have to let the images tell the story themselves without bearing out a personal signature to his movies.

Somewhat, this excess of violence, drugs, incest, and over aesthesising sure is a popular film amongst the mafia genre fans. It has this unique feel about it and it’s also a movie of its time. The synths, the costumes and the photography have this 1980’s feel that brings up nostalgia even for this writer who was born the same year that movie came out in theatres. It lets an impression of a glossy picture saturated with vibrant colors and pathetic characters “à la” Greek tragedy set in the most lavish state of the USA and in the most conformist decade of American Cinema. Scarface stands as the picture with all the excesses the 1980’s mainstream American films did not dipped into but that were all inserted in one movie.

As a whole, Scarface is not a dud, but the movie stands more as a farce or a parody of the genre more than a classic of the gangster flick. Especially with the grandiloquent decadent finale of Tony Montana. Many cinephiles know Scarface but only a few have seen the other De Palma/Pacino effort Carlito’s Way which deserves more praise and a wider audience.


  1. Very good review, I fully agree!

    I also think this is a very overrated film, but I also think it's very misunderstood. Lots of people seem to think it's "cool" and the end fight is "awesome" but I don't think that was De Palma or Oliver Stone's (the writer) intention.

    I've also seen Carlito's Way but I didn't like it much, something about De Palma's style really annoys me and I rarely enjoy his films...

  2. Thank You Jack!

    De Palma isn't my cup of tea either, as you probably guessed, but I think his Carrie and especially his Blow Out are his better ones. I'm kind of looking forward to see Criterion's transfer of Blow Out. I saw this when I was 15 and it let an important impression on me.

  3. Blow Out is one I've been meaning to for a while, even if I really didn't like Antonioni's Blow Up...

    Have you seen Phantom Of the Paradise, I've heard it one of De Palma's good films.

  4. Even if Blow Out is widely inspired by Blow Up they are two very different films. Antonioni's film is one of my favorite films of all time but a very uneasy one to get into... I really liked Ed Howard's take on it http://seul-le-cinema.blogspot.com/2010/09/blow-up.html

    Phantom Of The Paradise isn't bad but it's more a comedy than an actual thriller. Although it's an interesting take on the Phantom of the Opera play. Worth the look for sure.

  5. Ugh, I really need to see this. I am quite ashamed that I haven't already. In my opinion. De Palma is an underrated director. Great review and great blog!

  6. Thanks Matt S.! Yes you have to see this even if I personnally think that De Palma is an uneven director he still has some interesting films. He's the kind of director I'll watch every film because the man has interesting technical skills like Spielberg, for example, but you won't find their films on my favorite tops.
    I also like your blog! Inspiring reviews!

  7. Very interesting review. It's an opinion more people seem to have. Clearly this film has not aged well.

  8. Thanks Squish. Maybe the film is too overwhelming and 1980's flashy. But for me it's not the fact that it did not aged well it's the whole thing (script, directing, acting, etc.) that didn't work.


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