It’s 30 years since the release of Scarface, so to celebrate, we’re taking a look back at the famous film.
This iconic gangster pic charts the progress of Tony Montana (Al Pacino) as he builds a crime empire in Miami after migrating from Cuba.
Scarface is the Citizen Kane of gangster movies. Not because it’s the best. Citizen Kane has other features than being good. It’s like Citizen Kane because Montana’s journey mirrors very closely that of Charles Foster Kane. It’s true that Kane starts out as an idealist, whereas Montana is a pretty nasty piece of work from the beginning, but at the outset Montana is bad more from being naive and through having few opportunities, rather than the creature of pure loathing that he becomes.
Montana’s palatial accommodation mirrors Kane’s Xanadu as both men try and fill their lives with material possessions, to plug the empty void they feel from turning on their loved ones. And both films can be summed up with the idiom “money can’t buy you happiness”.
Scarface can be divided into three acts when Tony is starting out, as a mid level criminal, and a wealthy crime lord, rotten to the core. What’s striking is how little transitional material there is between the three. No sooner is he recruited to a life of crime than he is wearing designer suits and driving an open top car, with five years said to have passed. Similarly, his rise to the top is dealt with in a speedy montage to Bat Out of Hell.
The film prefers to focus on Montana at each of these stages, and the changes in his character, rather than the nuts and bolts of how he gets there. As a result, this is a very focused character study which is happy to rely completely on the brilliant Al Pacino in one of his best performances.
The soundtrack is somewhere between A Clockwork Orange and The Terminator. The organ-like synths certainly add an imposing sense of drama, but they date the film unduly thanks mainly to how unusual a soundtrack like this is outside of sci fi. I was unsurprised, therefore, to discover that music is done by Giorgio Moroder, responsible for the very badly aged Top Gun soundtrack. Is being dated his trademark?
One great thing about this film is that it’s a gangster movie that’s not afraid to be fun too. As brilliant as the likes of The Godfather or Donnie Brasco are, they often feel very straight laced. Scarface, thanks to Al Pacino’s spectacular acting, manages to infuse the film with amusing moments.
Grease ball Montana fails to charm the ladies and displays frequent ignorance, creating chuckles without undermining this terrifying character. Giving a humorous undercurrent to serious characters is one of Pacino’s gifts, and it’s something that works perfectly here. All-in-all Scarface has stood the test of time, and is a gleefully exuberant crime thriller with an anti-materialist message that still feels relevant today.