6 Really Awesome Things About Scarface

Scarface4 6 Really Awesome Things About Scarface

I watched Scarface for the first time recently. I am of course referring to the 1983 Brian De Palma/Al Pacino version, not the old Howard Hawks flick. When people talk about Scarface, they mostly talk about a few things: say hello to my little friend, huge shootouts, mountains of cocaine, flared collars, constant f-words littered throughout, and Al Pacino’s career-defining performance as iconic character Tony Montana. It’s a film with one of the biggest fanbases of all time, and is followed by an immense reputation.

So going into it fresh was one of those times when your expectations are so high that it’s hard for a movie to possibly reach them. The great thing about a movie like Scarface though is that its credentials are well earned. It deserves the following it has. It’s a tremendously influential movie, and it’s obvious just how much of an impact it had on the gangster genre, building on forbearers like The Godfather. It’s also noteworthy that Pacino stars in both these films. Casting him as Tony Montana immediately calls to mind Michael Corleone, and the interesting contrasts between the two are therefore more apparent.

Here are 6 things I was enamored with during my late arrival to the Scarface party. Many aspects of the movie don’t seem like they should work but somehow are simply awesome.

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1) The opening scene with the immigration official guys

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One of the reasons that Tony Montana works so incredibly well is that he’s never short on confidence. This is the classic element of any tragedy, that our hero falls victim to his own character flaws in the end. Interestingly, in this case Tony’s big “flaws” are also his greatest strengths. His immense confidence and ambition are the driving forces behind his rise to the top of the drug cartel scene. While it develops into pure megalomania, his bravado and brash demeanor are on full display from Scarface’s opening moments.

I loved the decision to just keep the camera close on Pacino’s face for these introductory moments, as we get to know the Tony Montana character through his reactions to questioning and his early impulse to lie through his teeth. Pacino’s manner here is reminiscent of Michael Corleone: more quiet, reserved, holding back, showing patience. He’s denying the power these interrogators have over him while not being as confrontational as we see later. He uses humor, charm, and affability to endear himself to his interviewers, and on another level, to us. It’s a masterful scene anchored by Pacino completely inhabiting this fascinating Cuban character, and sets the stage for the Tony Montana we come to know and fear.

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2) The riveting first drug deal scene

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In terms of action, this long scene featuring Tony’s first job for Frank Lopez is really captivating, and pretty crazy. It’s set up as a routine drug deal for Tony to administer but I’m sure we’re meant to expect something to go wrong. The tension is drawn out with the help of some very long takes, laying out the exterior environment and the interior apartment space the deal is set to go down in.

So there’s two awesome things going on in this little sequence. Well, more than two but two main things that I enjoyed the hell out of. First, it’s just set up so nicely, with little surprises like the Colombian we don’t expect to pull out the huge gun pulling out the huge gun, and then the big surprise of this sadistic dude going at Tony and company with a chainsaw.

The deal with the Colombians going down in this way of course harkens back to Tony’s earlier line that he doesn’t trust Colombians in general. So we’re not meant to be surprised, as he is unsurprised by the outcome. But then the second awesome thing about this scene is just how calm Tony is throughout the ordeal. He’s being threatened with a chainsaw, after seeing his buddy get his parts sawn off, and he barely blinks. He acts like he’s completely in control, even though it takes his other partners storming the apartment to save him. So as the earlier scene showed that Tony carries his bravado with him no matter what authority figures he’s up against, this one shows that he’s just not afraid of anything or anyone. If the movie drags later on it’s because it’s hard for it to keep up the excitement of these early scenes.

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3) The long scene with Tony in the Jacuzzi tub

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Even when it’s less exciting, Scarface is just admirable for how ballsy it is. And how strange. That’s not to say all the unexciting parts of the movie work really well; I’d say there’s a good middle portion of it that feels kind of flat. But even in the midst of some clunkiness there are details thrown in, like the scene that takes place with Tony in the bathtub for its entire duration. We get to see in a few sequences just how ornate Tony’s digs are once he becomes king of the cocaine scene, but this room is one of the most striking, laid out in gold coloring and just massive. The expanse of the space is a method we’ve seen used all the way back to Citizen Kane’s massive Xanadu mansion. It creates a feeling of isolation for the protagonist. We also get to witness the growing tension between Tony and his inner circle, including his wife played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Their relationship is an absolute mess. And all this transpires with Tony naked in the tub. On one hand it signifies luxury and decadence, and at the same time possibly foreshadows Tony’s tragic end, which finds him once again lying in water, except next time he’s face down, full of bullet holes.

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4) Tony’s “Say good night to the bad guy” speech

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Now this scene, this is a thing of beauty. And I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, though I’m sure others are and have some smart things to say about it. It’s possible that he’s meant to be addressing the movie’s audience, casting doubt on any moral superiority they may be feeling about him. This was all before the anti-hero really took off the way it did in TV the last decade, and so Scarface belonged to a select genre of film that really delved deep into the psychology of the bad guy.

The movie is laying its cards on the table here a bit in this sense, but it’s also showing how pathetic and desperate Tony has become in his desire to cling to what little control he has left over himself and his life. The lines “You’re not good. You just know how to hide,” and “I always tell the truth, even when I lie” are absolute deserving classics. We’re called upon to deal with the ambiguity of the morality at play here, to wonder what it is that makes Tony the guy that he is, beyond good or evil. And we also get to see him make a fool out of himself in a very public way, in contrast to him blending into the background in public the way he did previously. But it’s lonely at the top.

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5) The classic 80s musical score

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By today’s musical standards it can be difficult sometimes, for me at least, to get past the stereotypical 80s music that scores movies like Scarface or Blade Runner, the same way it’s tough to get past laughtracks in sitcoms. It can take you out of the moment sometimes, or else make the whole thing seem quaint, which can be charming in its own way but obstructs how seriously you are able to take the movie or particular scene. Both of these traits applied to Scarface for me, but in the end I was grooving more than I was rolling my eyes. There’s a pulse to it, especially in the early sequences, that gives the movie’s score a real control over the rhythm of things. It also makes it somewhat unique, in how well this droning music is put to use. It’s also particularly well used at the conclusion, when it rings out in a big way and punctuates the downfall of Tony Montana in a manner that feels appropriately epic.

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6) The explosive conclusion

Scarface 6 Really Awesome Things About Scarface

If anyone had lost interest in the middle section of the movie, the ending definitely brings them back. In one fantastic sequence we see all at once Tony Montana’s chickens coming home to roost, shown by Sosa’s hoards of henchmen storming the Montana compound through the security monitors Tony has set up all around the house. Of course, at this point he’s coked out of his mind and the security efforts go to waste. It’s another masterfully crafted scene that feels both surprising and inevitable; it’s a bit of a shock to see just the volume of dudes coming after Tony, and then there’s a bunch of other crazy stuff thrown in involving Tony’s sister and everything, but at the same time we know this is how it has to end for Tony.

But then the big surprise is that Tony comes out of his office and just blows the place up. The “say hello to my little friend” bit is awesome mostly because of everything that comes after. It’s a final act of defiance fitting for a guy who has never submitted to authority or fate at any point before. It’s also complicated by the fact that one reason this is happening to Tony is that he actually took a moral stand on something, refusing to include children as collateral damage on a hit. So there’s something righteous about his last stand, which makes it even more awesome. The fact that it’s one guy against dozens of dudes with guns and he’s holding his own makes it more awesome still. And then for the Terminator-looking dude to come and finish the job, it’s all about as perfect an end for a guy like Tony Montana as anyone can imagine.

There’s way too much to love about Scarface to bother thinking about the little things that didn’t seem to work terribly well here and there. It delivers in its big set pieces and most of all serves up just a dynamite character, brought to vivid reality by a disappearing act of a performance by the great, young Al Pacino. It’s also clear the influences this movie has had on art that’s come after, most immediate to me being its fingerprints on Breaking Bad. And is it just me or does Al Pacino go from young, 1970s, understated Al Pacino to older, louder, “hooah” Al Pacino over the course of the movie’s near three hours?

Call me a Scarface believer.

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