About Scarface (1983)
DePalma's comic book Godfather is certainly entertaining, at times. Its eternal dominance of the dorm poster market speaks to its iconic status, but is it anything else? I love this director but—and this may just be over-familiarity—this movie feels toned-down compared to other DePalma films of the era. That's crazy, of course—there's nothing toned-down about this movie, except maybe the simple-mindedness of Oliver Stone's script?
Maybe that's the problem, if there is one. As a celebration of testosterone run amok, the film has legendary status. Some of the action, particularly early on—the refugee camp assassination, the coke score gone chainsawingly wrong—is masterfully directed suspense of the kind few other 80s directors could deliver. The famous shootout in the third act, on the other hand, is merely serviceable, as if DePalma ran out of energy and compensated with (admittedly glorious) excess.
But Tony Montana is not that interesting as a character. The description on the disc box said he was the most ruthless gangster ever depicted onscreen—but don't they just mean the killingest? The most wastefully, self-hatingly over-the-top? The most coked-up? He seems to do whatever is necessary for a given scene to pack the most punch, rather than anything resembling what an actual human being might do. Pacino's feral performance both helps and hurts. He does the over-the-top thing so well it masks the character's basic emptiness.
Much more interesting characters surround him, but are hardly given anything to do—Cuban-born Steven Bauer's Manny Ribera, for example. Or Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Robert Loggia. F. Murray Abraham does the most with a brief role. I wondered a lot about all of the henchman, too—a little bit of curiosity on the part of the filmmakers about any of them would have gone a long way to making this a better movie.
It is a classic of the Awesomeness Quadrant of film appreciation but, alas, not much else.