- Movie Rating -

Scarface (1983)

| December 9, 1983

One of the saddest images in movie history occurs at the end of The Godfather Part II, as Michael Corleone sits out back of his villa contemplating the man that he has become.  We’ve seen him as a good and decent man, a man whose soul has been deadened by destiny and circumstance; a man who has ordered the deaths of many men including now his own brother.  I thought of that image at the end of Brian DePalma’s Scarface and realized that while both films are about the building of a criminal empire, the journey in this film was basically meaningless.  Tony Montana is a mean, vicious, hateful scumbag; he starts out a scumbag and by the end is simply a dead scumbag.  I cared deeply about Michael Corleone.  Montana can rot in Hell.

Scarface is, for me, an empty experience.  It’s a movie that exposes a massive self-aggrandizement of a man who builds a cocaine empire wrought by blood, betrayal and double-dealing.  Al Pacino gives a very good performance as Montana, a tough young Cuban convict who, in 1980, is freed by Castro who allows immigration out of the country for convicts in an effort to empty his jails.  Like thousands of others, Montana heads 90 miles north to Florida.

Tony Montana is not subtle.  He is a walking parody of himself.  He walks with a swagger and jerks his upper tors when the talks.  When he speaks, his lower jaw is slung forward and what comes out of his mouth is a thick accent that Pacino is always chewing on.  He dresses in suits with wide lapels, gold chains, rings on the fingers and an ever-present cigar which he presents like an entrepreneur. 

Upon arriving in South Florida, he proudly calls himself a “Political Prisoner” and almost immediately is offered a job by a Cuban-American to kill another ex-con in exchange for his citizenship.  Clearly, Tony knows that he is meant for more than dollar-a-day jobs washing dishes and he knows that his fastest track to wealth and opportunity is trafficking cocaine.  Soon, and after gallons of blood has been spilled, he gets a job with a local drug lord Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia) who possesses a multi-million-dollar operation that Tony envies.  Very quickly and not-so-methodically, Tony begins to take over the operation and take all the prizes for himself: the money, the drugs, the influence and even Frank’s girlfriend Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer).

It wish that I could say that I was caught up in this stuff.  I wish that I were more invested in the ways that Tony Montana builds his cocaine empire, but I was always at a distance.  I hated Montana.  I hated what he did and I hated how he got what he was after.  I know I’m not suppose to like this man but I found him so repellent, such a rat, such a mean, ugly and hateful monster that I really didn’t want to spend five minutes with him. 

His rise to power is interesting perhaps but, for me, I needed a counterpoint, some moral ground on which to stand.  Montana has none, he’s an empty shell and in the end gets exactly what he deserves.  Sure, he gets on the outs with Elvira and his sister Gine (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) and his friend Manny (Stephen Bauer) but there is never a moment when you ever had the idea that he deserved any of these people nor that he deserved any of the wealth or power that he accumulated.  This is the story of a worthless human being who gets worse as things progress.  At least Michael Corleone had the decency to feel bad about what he had done.  Sheesh!

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1983) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Drama