Anniversary Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia
Director: Brian De Palma
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 170 Minutes
Release Date: September 30, 2003


Film ***1/2

If you ask anyone today what their favorite gangster movie of all time is, chances are you will get one of two answers, The Godfather or Scarface. The latter of the two can easily be considered a much more hardcore version The Godfather, simply because its many scenes of brutal violence. Over the years, this tale of crime, drugs, and ultimate power has gone on to become one of the most popular films of the crime genre, which is quite an accomplishment for a movie that did only moderately well when released to theaters. From what I’ve seen, Scarface has indeed become something of a required viewing among the male species, and seeing how it’s popularity has soared ever since it’s initial release, I can see it thankfully being discovered by new generations of audiences for years to come.

Stylistic master Brian De Palma crossed over big time to the realm of big budget moviemaking with this risky project, which at the time of its release in 1983 was at the center of hot controversy. Apparently, prior to this film, there hadn’t been a more violent, more profane mainstream release. Scarface had every demeaning quality one could ask for, including perhaps the most scenes of drug use in any film at the time, and like De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, it was threatened with the dreaded X rating. In the end, De Palma got the picture he wanted released anyway, and Scarface proved to be a movie experience of the most extreme that had never quite existed before.

“All I have in this world is my balls and my word, and I don’t break ‘em for no one.”

For its star Al Pacino, Scarface would result in a career milestone. Pacino is clearly an actor of legendary status, and I am very certain that his many legions of fans find his portrayal of ruthless drug lord Tony Montana remains his most powerful performance to date. It’s true that even by 1983, Pacino wasn’t new to the crime genre, as he already perfected it in both The Godfather and Godfather Part II, but one thing can be said about Pacino in Scarface, you had never seen him as explosive and over the top before, which is a quality that only Pacino has perfected with this film and others since.

With the endlessly edgy screenplay penned by no less than Oliver Stone, Scarface is an epic story of the rise and fall of Tony Montana, who enters the U.S. in 1980 as a recently released political prisoner. As Castro was granting the opportunity of immigration for his people to Miami, he also sent away the prisoners he had so despised, as a means of emptying out his jails in Cuba, which is how Tony got to where he is.

“I kill a communist for fun, but for a green card, I gonna carve him up real nice.”

Along with his lifelong friend, Manny (Steven Bauer), Tony starts his experience in the states right at the bottom. Both he and Manny start working for minimum wage, something that Tony isn’t too much fond of since he didn’t come to the U.S. to work for money. Tony is ultimately driven when it comes to wanting cash, no matter what he has to do in order to get it. It isn’t too long before Tony’s chance encounter with a local drug runner results in him and his friend hired on to deal for Miami drug lord Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia)

As Tony soon becomes Lopez’ top lieutenant, he is soon seduced by the promise of even more power, as rival drug runner Sosa (Paul Shenar) offers a spot on his crew for Tony. He accepts the offer right on the spot, causing him to betray Lopez, who is upset by this since he helped bring Tony into the business in the first place. When he becomes convinced that Lopez ordered a hit on him, Tony strikes back by executing his former boss, and taking over every inch of his empire, including his mistress, Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer).

“I always tell the truth, even when I lie.”

After long, Tony appears to have more power and wealth than the president, and has no intention of slowing down. He is now married to Elvira, but only because he believes he has to have her, while she is at his side simply because she has quick access to drugs. There is no real romance between the two, just the notion that a marriage has to exist between them. Another weakness for Tony is his younger sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), whom Tony is way too overprotective of and can’t stand to see even enjoying herself. Their traumatic relationship results in quite possibly one of the most heartbreakingly crushing scenes ever.

For Brian De Palma, Scarface is perhaps one of the few films that isn’t so much heavily relied on the brilliant visual gimmicks he so flawlessly pulls off. De Palma is simply painting a distinct character piece, while at the same time creating a much lush sense of atmosphere in the setting of sunny Miami. There are a couple of trademark De Palma camera pans from one area to another, but for the most part, De Palma understandably lets Pacino and the look of Miami drive the moving power.

De Palma should also be credited with taking cinematic violence to a whole new level. Two scenes, in particular, still help to induce a few bone chilling reactions. There’s the infamous early scene where Tony and his two assailants are held captive during a drug deal gone horrendously bad, resulting in the use of a chainsaw, and not for the use of cutting down any nearby palm trees. The other is the classic final scene where Tony, all coked up, takes on an army of henchmen who invade his mansion. To this day, this scene remains one of the most striking scenes of violence ever shot (no pun intended), with Pacino’s classic line, referring to his mother of a machine gun, elevating it to sheer perfection.

“So say goodnight to the bad guy.”

Scarface remains one of the most hardcore films of all time. This is a movie that is a pure celebration in everything over the top, right down to Pacino’s now famous accent used for Tony Montana. If you’re wondering why I don’t give this film a full four stars, it’s only because I find De Palma’s Carlito’s Way, another crime epic starring Pacino as a somewhat more sympathetic criminal, to be much more masterful and dramatic, in addition to having the added bonus of extended De Palma style. Nonetheless, this is nothing short of pure cinematic firepower with one of the best directors of our time, and one of the all time great actors making the most of a superb collaboration.

Video ***1/2

Despite being an early big seller when first released five years ago, Scarface was in desperate need of a makeover. The picture didn’t have the anamorphic enhancement, and the image quality suffered throughout an all around poor transfer, which was sadly the case with many of De Palma’s earlier films on DVD. But Universal has more than made up for that issue with this entirely new transfer, which is a pure delight and very much one of the best looking 80s movies I’ve ever seen on the format. The print, now an anamorphic picture, is much cleaner and a whole lot clearer than what was given beforehand. The style of the various sets, most notably Tony’s lush mansion, come through superbly nice, with eye popping color usage to boot. A soft spot or two is seen, but for the most part this is without a doubt one of the best re-issues of any movie on DVD that was sorely in need of one.

Audio ***

The same level of improvement can be noted in the audio field. On the previous disc, all that was supplied was a 2.0 track, which limited the action to only the front area, which doesn’t do much for a film from twenty years ago. The new 5.1 track is a far more exceptional mix, providing an added level of surround range for both the sequences of shootouts, as well as the unique synthesized music score by Giorgio Moroder. Dialogue is a whole lot clearer too. Clearly, the answer to all the flaws in the first DVD release.

Features ***1/2

The second disc contains a good load of informative bonuses. There are five documentaries all together. The first three; “Scarface: The Rebirth”, “Scarface: Creating”, “Scarface: Acting”, each takes an in depth look at the making of the movie, featuring interviews with Brian De Palma, Al Pacino, Oliver Stone, and many more cast and crew members. Then there’s “The TV Version”, an intriguing montage of how extraordinarily different the theatrical version and the network television version are. Lastly, there is a short documentary titled “Origins of a Hip Hop Classic”, which looks at how the movie has influenced members of the hip hop music industry, where Tony Montana is seen as sort of a ghetto superhero. Rounding out the disc is a montage of deleted scenes.


SAY HELLO TO THE NEW DVD! Scarface has now finally made it to the DVD format the way is was meant to be presented. The bold new transfer makes the 80s classic more explosive than ever, in addition to standout directing and a purely remarkable lead performance.