Dave’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is the fourteenth film in my DePalma Deep Dive.
After BLOW OUT was released ("A difficult, unsuccessful picture," DePalma remarked, apparently his own harshest critic), he wanted to shake things up. He said, "I got tired of making these Brian DePalma movies. You get tired of your own obsessions, the betrayals, the voyeurism, the twisted sexuality. I've made a lot of movies like this so I was glad to get out there with those Cuban gangsters."
And boy, did he get out there. He grabbed Oliver Stone's profanity-laced screenplay (226 "fucks" according to IMDb!) and immersed himself into this violent, coke-fueled culture in which excess ruled the roost. Coke, women, greed, corruption, power, cars, mansions, more coke -- it's never enough for Tony Montana and his gang of criminals. Montana was just a fresh faced kid with big dreams when he came to America, and nothing was stopping him from getting what he wanted. He would kill anyone who got in his way from achieving power and money. True, he "worked" to get ahead, like any ambitious guy would, but his version of the "American dream" is far different than most people's.
SCARFACE is a familiar tale, sure, but it was influential for its time. Its "exceed to excess" theme resonated loudly with our country's obsession with bigness. Nothing was ever enough. You could even say the film was winking at Hollywood itself, which had its fair share of mansions, coke and power. I don't think the simplistic story warranted its near three-hour run time but that was precisely its point. You can't make a movie about excess without being excessive itself.
But man, SCARFACE was mesmerizing to watch. Not many DePalma-isms in this one, but his confidence with the camera and the essence of Stone's screenplay is staggering. This is a big, loud, garish movie, but it was steadfast and focused in its resolve. Most of the cast is fine and delivers what needed to be delivered, but everyone was there to simply serve Al Pacino. He is SCARFACE's lifeblood. Ebert said it right. It's an overblown, over-the-top performance from Pacino, but that's who Montana is: overblown and over-the-top in every possible way. Many people seem to think this is quintessential Pacino, but for the wrong reasons. It's not the screaming, bombastic Pacino that makes him such a revered actor; it's the quiet desperation in his eyes. Watch his pauses, his hesitations. In that crucial bathtub scene in which his wife and partner curse him off and storm out, Pacino sits in the tub silently and alone. Does Montana get it now? Is he seeing the error in his ways? Just by looking at Pacino's face, we see that he will never get it. He's too far gone, blinded by his own power and greed. That's the revered Al Pacino we know. That's why this actor is a legacy in this industry.
SCARFACE is not a masterpiece in any way, but it strikes a nerve. It gets under your skin and in your face, and you can't seem to look away. It's like the chainsaw scene in the beginning of the film. Once the guy in the bathroom is getting cut up, DePalma's camera exits the room and brings us down to the adjacent street. We're all thinking the same thing. When is DePalma going to bring us back upstairs? You may not want to watch, but you wanna see what happens.