Starring: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Robert Loggia, Michelle Pfeiffer
Director: Brian De Palma
Studio: Universal 31023 (2 DVDs)
Video: 2.35:1 letterboxed, color
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1 English; DD mono French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Extras: Deleted scenes (20 min.), The World of Tony Montana, Scarface Scorecard, The Making of Scarface The Video Game, The Rebirth, The Creating, The Acting, Conversion to TV
Length: 2 hours 50 minutes
Producer Martin Bregman retained the young Oliver Stone as screenwriter to create a shooting script based on the 1932 gangster epic starring Paul Muni, Scarface. With director De Palma engaged, it was decided to change the time to the present – it was 1983 – and the McGuffin (as Hitchcock would have called it) from Prohibition liquor to cocaine. In 1980 Castro had opened port Mariel Harbor in Cuba to allow 125,000 Cubans to leave if they wanted. About 25,000 of those had a criminal record, and that’s when the drug trade based in Florida mushroomed.
The film opens with documentary footage of the boats and refugees coming into Miami. Tony Montana is one of those coming in search of the American Dream. With a friend he begins work as a dishwasher in a streetside food stand. But has already acted as a hit man for other criminals by killing a Cuban communist who was among those in the refugee camp. Soon his reputation results in a job purchasing some coke from a Columbian source in Miami. The deal may have been a set up but it turns into a bloodbath, getting into the graphic violence without wasting time. Soon Tony is working for a leading dope dealer, and immediately zeroing in on the dealer’s beautiful but coke head mistress.
While on a trip to a cocaine cultivation farm in Bolivia on behalf of his boss, Tony begins negotiations on his own to the horror of another of his boss’s henchmen. The debonaire Bolivian dope mogul is informed by his own henchmen that Tony’s associate is a drug enforcement spy, and the man is eliminated (in a highly spectacular manner). Tony goes back and confronts his boss who naturally is upset, and they part company. Eventually Tony kills him, along with a crooked police detective who wanted to blackmail him, and gets the girl, whom he marries. From this point things rapidly go downhill for Scarface, with increasing paranoia, legal problems, jail time staring him in the face, his addiction to the coke he deals with, and general disgust with the high life that he is finally living to the hilt. There is also a subplot involving his sister, of whom he is overly protective. The inevitable final shootout is amazingly choreographed; the extras reveal there were at least five cameras going. Talk about an impressive exit from a film!
This was one of Pacino’s greatest acting achievements. Some of his Tonyisms may seem over the top, but the entire film is on such a grand opera level – plot wise, decor wise, even musically – that it fits perfectly. The scene with Tony in the floor-level bubble bath in his quarters – alienating everyone close to him and left muttering to himself in the bath about not needing anyone – is a gem. Georgio Morodor’s score is sort of pop symphonic with Las Vegas/Miami excessiveness. The club scenes are awash with disco music of the period. The image quality of this restored DVD is excellent, and the remixing of the original soundtrack for 5.1 DTS accents all the gunshots and explosions with gusto. (The original was one of the last 35mm films produced with a four-channel mag sound soundtrack.) Sometimes Pacino’s thick accent is a bit hard to decipher over the music; there’s always the English subtitles after all.
The separate disc of extras includes some well done new featurettes. The comparisons of the Paul Muni original and De Palma’s take on it are well worth watching, Bergman’s stories are compelling – about how the Miami Cuban population thought the film put them in a poor light and forced shooting in California instead, and his struggle to get an R rating for the film. Laughter as good as any comedy film provides will ensue from the featurettes Scorecard (how many times the F word is used and how many bullets fired) and TV Clips. The latter concerns Bregman’s amazement when one of the networks wanted to clean up the film’s dialog for presentation on national TV. He felt it was a totally impossible task, but was convinced after hearing what they did. We see and hear the original clips followed by the sanitized TV versions, and they are hilarious. For example, “F…his chick” becomes “Pluck his chicken.” Interesting that nothing was mentioned about editing out some of the gore. On that note, one scene’s reactions recalled those of the shower scene in Psycho. A character gets his arm sawed off, but this is never shown, only suggested – just as Janet Lee is never actually seen being stabbed in the shower in Psycho.
– John Sunier