Deeper Into Movies: “Scarface” (1983, Dir. Brian De Palma)

Al Pacino in Scarface

Editor’s Note: After a flurry of Black Friday and new apartment-inspired purchases, I’m now the proud owner of a 46″ flat screen TV, a Blu-ray-ready Playstation 3 and a Netflix subscription. Which means I’ll be watching a hell of a lot more movies and hopefully blogging about them regularly in this column. Future installments, this one included, will likely lean more toward scattered notes and thoughts rather than proper reviews.

I’m glad I waited to watch Scarface after hearing the generations of hip-hop it inspired. Thanks to Nas, Clipse and others, I already had a hearty appreciation for Al Pacino’s Tony Montana, the canny Cuban immigrant-turned-Miami drug lord who reaches the top only to discover he has nothing. Scarface is, obviously, a fest of gonzo violence, profanity and coke-snorting, but nothing about it screams B-movie — in its own way, fueled by a smoldering Pacino performance, it’s as serious a look at the dark side of the American dream as, say, There Will Be Blood.

I’m not the first to notice the parallels between the films (there’s even a clever mash-up trailer on YouTube), but I’m surprised I haven’t seen a larger exploration into their shared narratives. Tony, like Daniel Plainview, is a savvy nobody who has nothing but is determined to “get what’s coming to [him]” — “the world, and everything in it.” They soon wind up Tony the coke king and Daniel the oil man, but each finds his bile toward his fellow man undiminished by success. Despite all of Scarface‘s graphic moments, it has little room for sex; perhaps outside their wedding scene, Tony never kisses his wife, and Daniel’s experience is similarly chaste. Tony kills his loyal friend and partner, Manny; Daniel turns his back on his adopted son, H.W. Both sink deep into addiction — Tony inhaling from a mound of cocaine in his film’s last scene as Daniel chugs vodka during his. Pale substitutes for love. Both films, of course, conclude in violence, though only Daniel survives, utterly alone — a fate, perhaps, worse than Tony’s Pyrrhic death. With the critical reception of There Will Be Blood in mind, I’d say Scarface — Giorgio Moroder score, f-bombs, ’80s leisure suits and all — is long overdue for similar praise, not just two thumbs up from our favorite rappers.

Previously: Interview: Al Pacino (Yes, really — a sit-down conducted in my college days)