Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

"Overrated and extremely dated." | Photo: Park Circus

It’s Miami during the early Eighties and thug Tony Montana (Al Pacino) has just arrived along with thousands of other Cubans who flooded Florida when Fidel Castro emptied his jails. Following a brutal introduction to the cocaine business, Tony's ruthless ambition drives him to rise through the ranks very quickly...

Despite hardly attracting rave reviews upon its release back in 1983, Scarface has since found its way to cult classic status. And yet, though iconic enough to ensure its posters have become staple decorations of student bedrooms everywhere, a re-watch doesn't reveal an unfairly-judged masterpiece – it shows a flawed 'epic' lacking in heart. Arguably overrated and undeniably overlong (you really feel the near three-hour running time), Brian De Palma's update of Howard Hawks' 1932 flick of the same name doesn't make it to the top.

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While keeping the skeleton of Hawks's old school original, De Palma makes some defining changes - most notably the shift form Depression-era Chicago to Eighties Miami. As such, at times it’s like we're watching Miami Vice on steroids; all garish threads, cringy retro-pop accompanied by Giorgio Moroder's synthy score. Of course, the complete overload of style (everything here is black, red and white - or a combination) could be a dig at Eighties excess, but it all feels more dated than generation-capturing.

Still, while lacking in substance, De Palma and screenwriter Oliver Stone at least give us something to chew on as they tackle the pitfalls of American dream. Going from sweaty immigrant dishwasher to suit-clad money-flashing cocaine lord, Tony gets the cars, money and women he so badly wanted – and then doesn't know what to do with them. It's not particularly moving or sympathetic stuff, but at least it’s an attempt at depth.

There's a few memorable scenes (the shower chainsaw, the always-quoted "say 'allo to my leetle friend"), but its Pacino you'll take home with you. Decent support is provided from the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer (the ice-queen accessory), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (the big-haired little sis) and Robert Loggia (the boss to be overthrown), but Al blows them all away. Detestable and frequently over-the-the-top perhaps, his edgy, always-on-the-verge-of-erupting Tony Montana is magnetic to watch. No wonder all those students put him on their wall.

Much-loved and featuring an iconic showing from Pacino yes, but Scarface is still an overrated and extremely dated gangster yarn. Try Carlito's Way instead.

Reviewed on: 09 Apr 2010
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A migrant Cuban thug attempts to claw his way to the top of the drugs trade in Florida.
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Director: Brian De Palma

Writer: Armitage Trail, Ben Hecht, Howard Hawks, Oliver Stone

Starring: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia, Miriam Colon, F Murray Abraham, Paul Shenar, Harris Yulin, Ángel Salazar, Arnaldo Santana, Pepe Serna, Michael P. Moran, Al Israel, Dennis Holahan

Year: 1983

Runtime: 170 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Karlovy 2013

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If you like this, try:

Carlito's Way
Miami Vice: Season One