Monday, February 14, 2011

Scarface Remains one of Pacino's Best Films

One of my favorite actors is Al Pacino, known for films such as Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, The Godfather trilogy, Heat, The Devil's Advocate, Donnie Brasco, and Scent of a Woman. I think that one of his best roles has to be Cuban drug lord Tony Montana in Scarface (1983). It is a re-make of the 1932 film which was directed by Howard Hawks and written by Ben Hecht. The 1983 version was dedicated to Hawks and Hecht. The 1932 film was based on the life of mobster Al Capone, in the days of prohibition.The 1983 film dealt not with the illegal sale of alcohol, but cocaine. The Pacino film was directed by Brian DePalma, who also directed The Untouchables, Carrie and Carlito's Way. It was produced by Martin Bregman who also worked with Pacino on Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and Carlito's Way. The screenplay was written by Oliver Stone, who also wrote films such as Wall Street, Midnight Express and Born on the Fourth of July. Ironically, Stone fought cocaine addiction himself while writing the screenplay. In addition to Pacino, the film co-stars Steven Bauer as Manny Ribera, Tony's right hand man. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Elvira Hancock, the cold, distant girlfriend of Tony's mentor, Frank Lopez, played by Robert Loggia. Tony's sister Gina is played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

The film was not loved by everyone. Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars (his highest rating), but film critic Leonard Maltin gave it a poor review. Despite being nominated for 3 Golden Globes, it was also nominated for a Razzie award for worst director, Brian DePalma. Some saw the film as being too violent, with too much profanity. There are 42 people killed in the film. It originally recieved an X rating by the MPAA. The filmmakers knew they could not release an X rated film and have a wide audience. They edited the film, cutting out a lot of the violence. The rating was revised to an R. But, before its release, DePalma actually submitted the original X rated version to theaters. Yes, the film is violent, but so is the world of cocaine trafficking. I see it as being an accurate depiction of that lifestyle.

Scarface is about Tony Montana, who was able to leave Cuba in 1980 when Castro released thousands of refugees to go to Miami. It turned out that many who were coming to America had criminal records. Tony and his friend Manny work in a restaurant briefly washing dishes but decide that they need to sell drugs in order to make some real money. Tony learns about the business from Frank Lopez and eventually surpasses him and takes his girlfriend as well. Scarface is about Tony climbing to the highest level of being a drug lord, but through that process he loses his friends, his family, and himself. It is a portrait of a man who seeks power but only finds weakness and paranoia. He turns to drugs in order to escape from himself. His descent into cocaine addiction is swift, disturbing, and it has a violent ending.

This could have been a very different film. John Travolta was considered for the role of Manny. Robert DeNiro was considered for the role of Tony, but he turned it down. Sidney Lumet was the first choice for director but he did not take the job. The following actresses turned down the role of Elvira: Rosanna Arquette, Melanie Griffith, Kim Basinger, Jodie Foster, Brooke Shields. Two others who auditioned were Geena Davis and Sharon Stone.

A scene in the movie has Tony looking up at a blimp with the message "The World is Yours". He has a statue in his house with a globe above with those words on it. The 1932 film had this phrase on a billboard when Tony Camonte died (Paul Muni).

Scarface has become a bit of a cult classic. It is popular with many in the hip hop community and in 2006 a Scarface video game was released. Its budget was $25 million and it has made $45 million in the US and $65 million worldwide at the box office. It is not a short film, with a length of 170 minutes. But, I put it up there with 2 other favorites, Casino and The Godfather, both which are also about 3 hours. It is long, but it takes time to tell the story, and I think it is a well crafted screenplay. Tony Montana is a hero in the same way as characters from films such as Good Fellas, The Godfather, Casino, Donnie Brasco, Carlito's Way and even Tony Soprano from the HBO show The Sopranos. People see the organized crime lifestyle as glamorous and powerful, with fancy cars, houses and everything a person could want. Those things are part of the lifestyle, but people in that life also sell their souls.

*Some material from