Top critical review
Memorable character trapped in unremarkable action movie
on May 31, 2004
After watching the documentary on this 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD of Brian De Palma's SCARFACE detailing how this movie has been an influence on gangsta rappers, I could certainly understand why this movie has become a gangster film classic. It certainly has a memorable main character, Tony Montana, masterfully played by the ever-so-versatile Al Pacino. Montana is a magnetic but deeply flawed individual who gets lucky, gets rich, and then gets greedy (which destroys him), and Pacino does a good job in bringing out the man's magnetism without making us truly like him exactly. And on a technical level it is well-made, with bright, colorful cinematography by John Alonzo to accentuate the '80s flash (and perhaps its lack of substance).
And yet after the final gun battle was over and Tony Montana had received his deadly comeuppance, the overall impression I got out of SCARFACE was of a generally unremarkable, overlong action movie with some heavy-handed, unsubtle drama beneath. I guess I just didn't buy the bloated operatic style De Palma employed in this film, and as usual with some of his speeches, screenwriter Oliver Stone has the subtlety of a sledgehammer (sometimes it works, but sometimes it makes you wince, like it does here). "Nothing exceeds like excess," says Michelle Pfeiffer's character Elvira in the movie, and De Palma seems to have followed that in SCARFACE---to the film's detriment, I think. THE GODFATHER and GOODFELLAS are undoubtedly still your best bet if you are looking for great gangster movies. SCARFACE seems distinctly second-rate in that company, despite Pacino's notable performance (and I didn't mind his Cuban accent at all).