The 1970s had the Godfather films, the 1990s saw Goodfellas and Casino, but it was in the 1980s that Brian De Palma directed not only the wonderful The Untouchables, but also his now celebrated cult-classic gangster masterpiece about the Miami cocaine drug scene, Scarface.
The film's plot is simple: Tony Montana is a Cuban refugee who along with other friends makes it to Miami and establishes his criminal empire as a drug kingpin--his slow meteoric rise from the very bottom to the wealthy top is what makes the film so compelling to watch--the American Dream in action. The performances themselves, by Pacino as Tony Montana, Steven Bauer as his best friend Manolo, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as his sister Gina, the sultry Michelle Pfeiffer (in the movie that made her a star) as his love interest Elvira, and Robert Loggia as Montana's mentor are first-rate and terrific. All of the actors are truly wonderful and give themselves fully to each of their roles; Al Pacino to this day continues to say, that it is the favorite of all his film performances.
The lavish excess of the 1980s is beautifully captured, with a brilliant synthesizer-heavy soundtrack/score by Italian music producer Giorgio Moroder who worked regularly with Donna Summer during her heyday. Everything about this film is excessive: the money, the drugs, the violence, and expletives are here; two decades plus later, it still holds up as a rather shocking and convincing motion picture. It is a long film but one never feels it drag; the action is constant and storyline highly engrossing.
The film was released in 1983, but most critics at the time hated it for its extreme violence and foul language, but years later it has been reconsidered as a true gangster epic of what life really was like during the 1980s for the drug dealers of the time; Oliver Stone's strong true-to-life script was written due to his own personal battle with coke during the era. What you see here, is what some criminals really lived through or died because of.
Twenty-four years later, Scarface has been and continues to be spoofed, in particular due to its many memorable lines and quotes, such as "Say hello to ma little frien'!" The use of the Spanish language is pervasive and gives the film an edge that Italian did to the Godfather pictures--many Cubans at the time felt the movie gave them a bad name, but alas, gangsta hip-hop artists have been influenced by the film and along with others kept it alive and well into the present as a cult-favorite.
My brother Charles was hooked from the very moment he saw it in the theater and subjected me to many viewings of Scarface on videotape throughout the 80s. He used to even hold viewing parties with his friends! Looking back at it now, I can see why he loved it so, for it is a truly great classic monumental gangster film.
"Why dan't ya stick yer head up jour ass? See, if it fits." - Tony Montana.