Friday, May 10, 2013

Scarface (1983 film)

Based on the 1932 film directed by Howard Hawks and screenplay by Ben Hecht from a novel by Armitage Trail, Scarface is the story of a Cuban refugee who arrives to Miami in 1980 where he works his way to the top to become a drug kingpin and later fall. Directed by Brian De Palma and screenplay by Oliver Stone, the film is a wild look into the burgeoning drug culture of the 1980s in Miami as it chronicles a man who is eager to own the world and everything else in it. Playing the role of Tony Montana is Al Pacino in one of his most defining performances of his career. Also starring Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Loggia, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, F. Murray Abraham, Harris Yulin, and Paul Shenar. Scarface is a fucking wild and operatic film from Brian De Palma.

The film is a rise-and-fall tale in which a Cuban exile in Tony Montana as he arrives in Miami as part of the Mariel boatlift of 1980 with some of his friends as he starts off as a small hood for the drug dealer Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia) to becoming the top drug dealer of Miami as he yearns to own the world and everything else in it. The film takes place in a period where the cocaine trade in the early 80s was starting to rise involving Latin American drug dealers as they rose to the top where Tony Montana is part of that world as he decides to go for something much bigger as he kills, schemes, and does everything to get to the top. Along the way, there’s sacrifices and such where he would have allies and later enemies that would play to his downfall as well as his growing addiction to cocaine.

Oliver Stone’s screenplay definitely takes the idea of the rise-and-fall of a drug dealer to showcase a world in which a man starts off at the bottom and work his way to the top. While his journey doesn’t make Montana a honest man, it does give him some ounce of respect in the way he does things as well as making deals and such. The people around Montana like his best friend Manny Ribera (Steven Bauer), Lopez’s mistress Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer), and his young sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) would all play part in Montana’s rise-and-fall as they would help in his journey but also would experience downfalls of their own. There is a complexity to Stone’s script as he explores this man’s sense of ambition where Montana is given a set of rules by Lopez of how to do things but Montana would go way overboard as it would lead to his downfall.

It’s not just the structure of Stone’s script that helps flesh out the formula of the rise-and-fall but also the dialogue which is very confrontational and very frank as it features 187 uses of the word “fuck”. It’s all very stylized as it plays to a world where it’s very seedy and unforgiving as Montana is very upfront that he’s not a nice guy and he can admit that he lies. Yet, it’s part of his flaws as he would take credit for his own rise as he would be his own undoing through a series of bad decisions, paranoia, and selfishness that would also be driven by his own escalating addiction to cocaine.

The direction of Brian de Palma is very grand and operatic as it plays to a period of decadence where people go to discos, do cocaine, have sex in bathrooms, and do all sorts of crazy shit. While de Palma does create some interesting compositions including Montana’s interrogation scene where there’s an eerie intimacy to that scene as well as a few other scenes. There’s also an element of suspense where de Palma just build things up very slowly where it will have some kind of violent conclusion. It is all part of de Palma wanting to create something that is gritty and realistic but also not be afraid to exaggerate things. Notably some very gruesome moments where Montana is forced to watch one of his friends be killed by a chainsaw.

It’s not just the film’s violence that is excessive and operatic that includes the film’s climatic showdown between Montana and a Colombian cartel. It’s also the world that de Palma sets up as he uses some very stylish crane shots and other camera tricks to play up this world of decadence. Even in a montage to establish Tony’s rise where it is quite excessive from the clothes the characters wear to the cars that they drive as well as the fact that Montana has two tigers as pets. Still, there is that sense of intrigue and danger in the third act where de Palma goes all out and more as it includes some very chilling moments where Montana is clearly hitting his bottom as well as the fate that is set for him. Overall, de Palma creates an outrageous and confrontational film about greed and ambition in the eyes of a man named Tony Montana.

Cinematographer John A. Alonzo does amazing work with the film’s colorful cinematography from the very sunny, colorful look of Miami’s exteriors and beaches to some scenes set in Los Angeles as part of South America as well as some of the dark interiors to set the chilling mood for the film. Editors Jerry Greenberg and David Ray do excellent work with the editing to create a very stylish approach to the cutting from the rhythm of the violence and some montages to some slower cuts in the film’s suspenseful moments. Production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti, with set decorator Bruce Weintraub and art director Edward Richardson, does fantastic work with the look of the mansions the characters stay in to the Babylon club that definitely has an air of excess.

Costume designer Patricia Norris does wonderful work with the costumes from the stylish dresses the women wear to the colorful suits the guys wear to play up that decade of decadence. Sound editor Edward Beyer does superb work with the sound from the way the gunfire sounds to some of the chilling moments in the film. The film’s score by Giorgio Moroder is brilliant for its eerie, electronic-driven score filled with some ominous themes and arrangements to play up the sense of coldness in the world as well as some pieces to play up the world of decadence. The film’s soundtrack consists largely of music from pulsating synth-pop and disco from Elizabeth Daily, Paul Engemann, Beth Anderson, and Debbie Harry to a Latin-pop song from Maria Conchita Alonso.

The casting by Alixe Gordon is just phenomenal for the ensemble that was created for the film that would include a lot of memorable appearances for the actors that appeared in this film. Among these notable small roles include Pepe Serna and Angel Salazar as a couple of Tony’s friends in Angel Fernandez and Chi Chi, Mark Margolis as Sosa’s devious henchman Alberto, Geno Silva as Sosa’s assassin the Skull, Richard Belzer as a comedian at the Babylon Club, Miriam Colon as Tony’s mother who despises Tony, Michael Alldredge as Tony’s banker George Sheffield, Harris Yulin as the corrupt detective Mel Bernstein, and Paul Shenar as the Colombian drug lord Alejandro Sosa who becomes an ally of Tony’s until an assignment gone wrong leads to trouble.

F. Murray Abraham is terrific as Lopez’s henchman Omar Suarez who is wary about Montana as he is uneasy about Montana’s ambition. Robert Loggia is great as the crime boss Frank Lopez as a man who is full of wisdom as well as being a fun guy who later feels threatened by Tony’s ambition as he tries to warn him about what will happen. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is wonderful as Tony’s sister Gina who is intrigued by the world of excess as she becomes an object of affection for Manny despite Tony’s over protectiveness towards her. Michelle Pfeiffer is amazing as Lopez’s mistress Elvira who later becomes Tony’s wife as a woman who knows a lot more than everyone else as she later succumbs to her own drug addiction. Steven Bauer is superb as Tony’s friend Manny who is a man that wants to have fun and enjoy the good life while wanting to do things to help out as he later becomes alienated by Tony’s ambition and paranoia.

Finally, there’s Al Pacino in one of his most iconic performances of his career as Tony Montana. The film has Pacino go all out and more as a man who is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. It’s a performance that is full of swagger, bravado, humor, and extremely confrontational. Pacino not only is given some of the best one-liners of all-time but he really means it when he says those things. It’s also him just commanding the moment including the film’s final shootout with Sosa’s men as he utters out some of the best one-liners ever as it’s a role that only he can play.

Scarface is a magnificent film from Brian de Palma featuring an outstanding performance from Al Pacino. Along with a great supporting cast, a cool soundtrack, and a wild script by Oliver Stone. It’s a film that is still wild nearly 30 years since its release as it still holds up and more. Filled with lots of dead bodies, mountains of cocaine, 187 “fucks”, and lots of more crazy shit. It’s a film that is very unapologetic in being excessive and extravagant. In the end, Scarface is a triumphant achievement from Brian de Palma.

Related: Scarface (1932 film)

Brian De Palma Films: (Murder a la Mod) - (Greetings) - (The Wedding Party) - (Dionysus in ‘69) - (Hi Mom!) - (Get to Know Your Rabbit) - Sisters - Phantom of the Paradise - Obsession - Carrie - The Fury - (Home Movies) - Dressed to Kill - Blow Out - Body Double - (Wise Guys) - The Untouchables - Casualties of War - The Bonfire of the Vanities - Raising Cain - Carlito’s Way - Mission: Impossible - Snake Eyes - Mission to Mars - Femme Fatale - The Black Dahlia - (Redacted) - Passion (2012 film) - (Domino (2018 film)

© thevoid99 2013

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great review, I LOVE Scarface.