Scarface (1983)

Rating: B

Dir: Brian DePalma
Star: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Loggia

Despite being a cult movie among rappers, it’d be wrong to say this glorifies a life of crime. Oh, in shallow terms, it does, with the fast cars, big houses and loose women: but is Tony Montana (Pacino) ever truly happy? I suspect not. Indeed, the more he has, as he claws his way up from the gutter to become a drug baron, the less content he appears to be. As Elvira (Pfeiffer), the wife he takes from his former boss (Loggia) says, “We’re not winners, we’re losers.” They are, however, losers with a fabulously nice bathroom, which would seem sufficient justification for a life of crime almost on its own.

Chris – being Cuban – snorted derisively at the accent of the Bronx-born Pacino, but Bauer, from Havana, got enthusiastic approval as Tony’s sidekick, and she reckons he had a lot of input into the dialogue. Either that, or writer Oliver Stone managed to channel Hispanic ancestors somehow – while battling his own coke habit, as he did during the writing of the script. At 170 minutes, it is probably too long, with the debt to The Godfather obvious both there, and in the casting of Pacino who – apart from the accent thing – is thoroughly convincing in the role. He’s not a “likeable” character, and it’s hard even to describe him as sympathetic.

For example, his desire to protect his sister, is balanced by the rank hypocrisy of his own lifestyle. About the only moment of genuine humanity is his refusal to take out an enemy of his Bolivian supplier, because he’d have to kill the target’s wife and kids too. Ironically, that’s what leads – and I trust this isn’t a spoiler – to his downfall. It is also, very much, a product of its time, what with the big hair and the Giorgio Moroder score, but as its popularity today shows [our son pointed out similarities in GTA: Vice City], the twisted American dream it portrays is still a powerfully seductive one.