Scarface ★★★★★

So after a long and prolific year, why not begin the next one with one of my personal favourites?

Brian De Palma's Scarface has been in my good books for a long time. A loose remake of the 1932 film (written by Oliver Stone), it's one that's been quoted, referenced and copied countless times (like in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City), but how well does it hold up? Well, I wouldn't say a whole lot, but that's besides the point. I'd personally say it's one of the most entertaining crime films ever, and my personal favourite of De Palma's work.

Based in tropical Miami, Florida in 1980, a struggling Tony Montana and his best friend Manny are new in town as part of a refugee transfer (as organised by Fidel Castro). Some "changes" allow him to be released onto the streets of Miami, where he gets offered to oversee a cocaine deal. Shit hits the fan however, and Tony later finds himself making his way as one of the top associates of drug-lord Frank Lopez, while trying to make amends with his struggling family (his sister Gina and his dear Mama). When finding himself double-crossed however, Tony decides to take matters into his own hands as he emerges as Miami's biggest crime boss.

Across a runtime of 3 hours, Scarface plays out in a purely episodic fashion, slowly but satisfyingly chronicling Montana's "rags-to-riches" rise to power and fame. The first half is more or less Tony climbing is way through the ranks after his initial arrival, while the second half shows him at the top of the drug business, with everything he could ever want (including the Elvira Hancock, played by a lovely Michelle Pfeiffer) but rivals and law enforcement slowly closing in on him while his coke addiction and his relationship with his friends and family worsens.

De Palma was primarily known for his work in the horror and thriller genres at the time, so this was quite an unexpected transition for him. Still, I feel he more than proved himself worthy here, even if some of his stylistic traits from films like Carrie and Blow Out are absent. The runtime can feel somewhat elongated at times, with a few scenes that feel could have been cut down (or removed altogether), but it does a more than effient job of setting up characters and their motivations. Visually, it looks brilliant as well, giving us a good portrait into the coke-fueled, neon-drenched landscape of 1980s Miami.

Now Al Pacino is easily one of the greatest actors of our time, though I wouldn't be so quick to call his performance as Montana his all-time best. However, it most definitely is one of his most iconic and quotable, giving the character the profanity-spewing, short-tempered edge he needs. For a big-time drug-pusher as well, he actually isn't a bad guy at heart at times. Sure he mercilessly offs his rivals and gets regularly shitfaced on his own supply, but he also stays loyal to his friends and family (maybe almost too loyal, when it comes to his sister Gina), and has a code against harming innocents.

One major criticism back in the day was the excessive amount of violence, which can be a turn-off. It's loaded with plenty of bloody gunplay, like a nightclub shooting and the absolute bloodbath that is the final siege on Tony's house. Easily the worst scene however has to be the infamous "chainsaw" sequence. A lot of it is implied rather than shown (with gory dissection shots), but in a way that makes it worse, since your left to picture the grisly details in your head.

One thing that I've always adored about the movie is it's soundtrack, one that's so good that an entire radio station in Grand Theft Auto III reused songs from it. It's easy to label Giorgio Moroder's music score as dated, but I feel it more than gives Scarface the power-driven edge it needs, from atmospheric and haunting ambient synth to pulsating Hi-NRG/electro-pop tunes. Who honestly doesn't have a thing for Debbie Harry's "Rush Rush", or "Push It To The Limit" (accompanying a power-driven montage depicting Tony's rise to power)?

In a way, Scarface feels like the definite gangster-epic of the 80s. Gratuitously violent, relentlessly foul-mouthed, coke-fueled, gaudy and high-octane in every way, pretty much everything that defined cinema during that decade. I can admittedly look at it with a more critical lens these days, and say that it's very much an acquired taste. For some like me however, it's one of those films that's absolutely timeless.

A little late I know, but Happy New Year to all my followers, and let's hope 2018 is a fun one.


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