Though it has now achieved cult status, Brian DePalma’s Scarface failed to impress critics during its original theatrical run in 1983. Made for an estimated $25 million, box office response was tepid, only grossing only $66 million. Cartoonish and campy, Scarface played like a spoof of hard-core violence with a profanity-laced soundtrack so full of f-bombs that rarely more than a few seconds go by without the word being uttered. (There are reported to be 226 instances of its usage.) Even so, I’ve always found something appealing about Al Pacino as Tony Montana, walking around convinced he rules the world.
In May 1980, Fidel Castro opened the harbor at Mariel, Cuba with the apparent intention of letting some of his people join their relatives in the United States. Within seventy-two hours, 3,000 U.S. boats were headed for Cuba. It quickly became apparent that Castro was forcing the boat owners to bring back with them not only their relatives, but the scum of his jails. Of the 125,000 refugees that landed in Florida, an estimated 25,000 had criminal records.
As part of that boat lift Tony Montana (Pacino), arrives in Miami with his lifelong best friend Manny Ribera (Steven Bauer), determined to grab his piece of the ultimate American dream. To expedite their release from a Cuban refugee camp, Tony and Manny agree to kill a former Cuban government official for Miami drug dealer Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia). After gaining their freedom, they do menial work, but quickly realize that’s not for them. Tony strong-arms Frank’s associates into letting him run a cocaine buy. The buy goes terribly wrong, but Tony and Manny escape with both the stash and the money. Frank is duly impressed although his right-hand man, the slimy Omar Suarez (F. Murray Abraham), is not.
Lopez now considers Tony his right-hand man. Tony, armed with a huge ego and the ambition to match, wants to be THE MAN. Reclining on the couch in Franks glitzy office, Tony notices Frank’s leggy, blonde girlfriend Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer) descending the stairs. Clearly unimpressed with her boyfriend’s company, Elvira retreats to the bar while acerbically discussing Frank’s plans for the evening. Tony takes an immediate liking to the leggy blonde. Tony continues to run mid-level deals for Frank, including a trip to Bolivia to meet cocaine cartel Alejandro Sosa (Paul Shenar). Tony moves up the ranks when after Sosa throws Omar Suarez from a helicopter with a noose around his neck.
Stepping up when Frank begins to slip, Tony is afforded a life of all the excesses he could ever want when he finally becomes top dog. However, for as much as Tony comes to despise Lopez, he neglects to take two important lessons to heart: “don’t underestimate the other guy’s greed” and “don’t get high on your own supply.” Blinded by excess and cocaine, Tony begins to lose control; control of his empire, control of his sister (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), control of his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and, inevitably, control of himself. He pushes everyone away until he only has one friend left at his side. “Say hello to my little friend!”
Screenwriter Oliver Stone really puts us at the epicenter of early 1980’s Miami culture. All of the excess is on full display, as is the Cuban desire to assimilate to American culture. While it’s easy to disregard Scarface as amoral or gratuitous, there’s a lot of stuff going on just beneath the surface. Tony is driven by compulsions that can’t really be explained; perhaps he is slightly crazy to begin with. He’s never satisfied and will never be able to sit back and enjoy life. He doesn’t love Elvira; he simply has to have her. And, even when he gets her, we’re never privy to anything remotely healthy in their relationship. (Despite Tony and Manny’s professed love of women, Scarface is a misogynistic, arguably asexual, film. Killing is the most intimate act Tony performs on screen, and he has little compassion for even those closest to him. He wants Elvira, but why? He wants a son, but why?) He’s an addict in every sense of the word, and few films have captured the feverish madness addiction causes, as well as this; whether that addiction is to money, cocaine, or power.
Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this 4K presentation offers up a largely appealing image. Slight softness appears occasionally, since most of those issues crop up during interiors, it’s likely a result of the photography, not the transfer. Grain looks natural, so the use of digital noise reduction appears minimal and print flaws aren’t an issue. Given its Miami setting, much of Scarface takes place in brightly lit exteriors, which look terrific throughout. Colors are bold and dynamic, with absolute clarity. While interiors are comparatively less captivating, they still show appropriate hues. Blacks are fine, with solid density.
The DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack has some ups and downs. Dialogue sounds mostly natural, but more than a few lines sounded a bit rough. Effects are free of distortion, but few have a “canned” sound…Though they were fine considering the age of the film. The synthesized score sounds better. The music has a good amount of life –The score is definitely a high point. The track makes use of the entire soundfield.
English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles are included.
Universal has included the 1932 version of Scarface on Blu-ray, now available only as part of this “The World Is Your’s” Limited Edition along with a large statue replica. The new presentation looks and sounds quite impressive (1.35:1 aspect ratio/DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0) and includes two cuts: theatrical and alternate censored.
Scarface’s UHD disc includes just one extra, which happens to be the only new content. The additional extras, all previously released, are on the remastered Blu-ray included in the set.
- New! Scarface 35th Anniversary Reunion (SDR, 27:06) Filmed at the Tribeca Film Festival, this Q&A features director Brian DePalma and actors Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeifer and Steven Bauer.
- The Scarface Phenomenon (HD, 38:34) This 3-part high definition documentary expounds on the history, debut, critical response, ensuing controversy, rating disputes, quotable quotes, content and impact of the film on audiences, the Cuban community, Hollywood and cinema. Segments include “Say Hello to the Bad Guy,” “Pushing the Limit” and “The World & Everything in It.”
- The World of Tony Montana (SD, 11:38) A parade of authors, magazine editors and law enforcement officials toss in their two cents.
- The Rebirth (SD, 10:08) Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson’s 1932 Scarface and how it inspired Brian De Palma’s Scarface.
- The Acting (SD, 15:05) De Palma, producer Martin Bregman and Al Pacino weigh in on the film’s performances.
- The Creating (SD, 29:35) De Palma, Bregman, Oliver Stone and key members of the cast and crew dig into the development of the film, the challenges they faced and the decisions they made.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 22:29) More than a dozen deleted scenes.
- Scarface: The TV Version (SD, 2:48) Select snippets from the heavily edited broadcast version.
- Digital HD
Movie title: Scarface
Actor(s): Al Pacino, Paul Muni Steven Bauer, George Raft , Michelle Pfeiffer , Boris Karloff
Genre: Crime, Film Noir, Action, Drama, Melodrama