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.