Blu-Ray Review: Scarface

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reviewer: Harry Davenport
Rated: 18 (UK)
Release Date: 5Th September 2011
DirectorBrian De Palma
Cast:  Al PacinoMichelle Pfeiffer , Steven BauerF. Murray Abraham

Scarface the classic, albeit slightly overrated, gangster film, with its vibrant colours and Miami setting could not suit the Blu-Ray format more. The film looks great and is well worth purchasing or upgrading to.

Scarface is a remake of the Howard Hawks hugely influential 1932 film of the same name. The original saw Paul Muni as Tony Camonte, a man who rises through the ranks in the organised crime world of Chicago. The remake takes place in Miami during the cocaine boom of the 80s and has Al Pacino as Cuban refugee Tony Montana, who rises through the ranks in a similar fashion. It is very respectful to the original, with captions on the last shot saying that it is dedicated to Hawks and the scriptwriter Ben Hect. They have some scenes and the overall plot in common, but the films couldn’t feel more different. It is one of the greatest remakes of all time, making the story contemporary and relevant for a new generation. The original was a gorgeous black and white noir but the remake is amazingly colourful. Hawaiian shirts, beachside houses and bars, neon lit clubs. This look is in complete contrast with the horrible actions of the characters and works a treat.

The original started with captions asking why the government wasn’t doing anything to stop these criminals. Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay of the remake and has his own points to make. He shows that the gangsters are not the only villains, with bankers, lawyers and even government figures being just as corrupt. A wonderful sequence starts with a shot of a TV news report with reporters saying that perhaps drugs should be legalised or government controlled. We pull out and see Pachino sitting in a huge golden jacuzzi, showing how keeping it illegal was making criminals, like him, uber-rich. Stone’s script is simply magnificent, being both full of anger and meaning and at the same time being funny.

Brian De Palma directs and is at the top of his game as well. He gives the film an operatic quality; it is certainly larger than life. With the gargantuan sets, huge shootouts, melodramatic slow motion and huge cocaine piles. The film looks completely tacky but this is due to the taste of the gangsters. The suits, the houses and the cars are all hideous but this is simply showing the characters’ ignorance. If The Godfather is Blade Runner then this is Total Recall. Not subtle but a jolly good ride and a lot of fun. The action scenes are particularly memorable. The end shootout being the most famous, but there are thrilling sequences throughout the film. From a shootout involving a chainsaw, or an assassination attempt in a club where the strangest entertainer I have ever scene gets caught in the crossfire.

The cast is simply wonderful. Michelle Pfeiffer is both stunning and compelling as Pacino’s love interest. A woman who pretends to take no shit but does in order to maintain her coke addiction. Steven Baur plays the best friend and assistant, being totally believable as a Latino charmer with little imagination. But of course it is Pachino that really stands out. He is incredible as an ignorant man who will do what it takes to make it. The way he slumps when he sits is astonishing. He becomes a man with no taste and no manners, but one who happens to be very dangerous. Unfortunately this did mark the start of Shouty Al. Where his performances tended to be less subtle and consist of a lot of shouting, as if his lines were all in Caps Lock, “SHES GOT A GREAT ASS!”. This has become Pachino’s fallback performance. Very good but never as deep as the work he did in the 70s, in films such as Dog Day Afternoon or Serpico.

The character of Tony Montana has become a hero to pricks and rappers all around the world. They seem to relate to a man starting with nothing and making something of himself and see him as a hero. They can’t see that the film is condemning the man and what he stands for. People who relate to him are simply as ignorant as the character. MTV’s cribs has endless houses of people who have Scarface posters, and they all share Tony Montana’s disgusting taste in décor. Having Tony as your hero is simply ridiculous, you may as well have Norman Bates, “He was tough and did what he needed to do. He owned his own business and loved his mother. He was a real man.” It is such a shame that Scarface has been adopted by people who don’t seem to get the message of the movie.

Scarface is not the perfect masterpiece it is often seen as. The score has dated the film terribly. The first music we hear sounds like that of an early video game. The music in the clubs are fine for they are diagetic but the score in the more intimate or dramatic moments is not good enough and synth and keyboard music completely cheapens the film. There are a few moments which seem a little B movie esq; shots of a bomb under a car and a man with the detonator look as if they were made for television. The montage to “Push it to the Limit” is also over the top, and unintentionally funny, climaxing in Tony showing off his pet tiger. But all of this is part of the accentuated operatic style of the film.

There are some embarrassing features included on this disc. The inclusion of Eli Roth talking about how much the film influenced him is a mistake. And they feature far too much of American sports presenter, Jillian Barberie Reynolds, who talks about it being her favourite movie. Everything she says is irritating and wrong. She states how Tony is always one step ahead of everyone and this simply isn’t true, otherwise he wouldn’t be arrested or die in such a violent way. Having Ice Tea saying that Tony had honour because he wouldn’t kill a kid is also infuriating, for he is talking about a man who has no problem killing anyone else and dealing drugs. I have no clue as to why they put the documentary on the making of the 2006 video game Scarface: The World is Yours. A terrible game when it was realised. Seeing Michael York saying how wonderful it is that people will be able to continue the story of Tony Montana is just depressing. And guess who is another guest voice? Only Jillian Barberie Reynolds, she better not appear in documentaries for Battleship Potemkin or The Third Man, with her ridiculous views. There is one good documentary featuring interviews with Pacino, De Palma and Stone but these seem to be quite old, and it would have been nice to feature a commentary track with any of the aforementioned names.

Scarface is a tremendous movie. Exciting and poignant. The Blu-Ray looks fabulous. Buy it for the great looking version of the film but not for the special features.

Special Features: 2.5/5

Movie Rating: 4.5/5