Face-Off: Scarface vs. Goodfellas

BLACK MASS hits theaters next week, and with the help of a terrifying Johnny Depp and the direction of the talented Scott Cooper, the film has the potential to be a solid addition to the gangster film genre. Mob movies are roughly as old as celluloid itself, but only a handful shine through as truly great films. We've done THE GODFATHER vs. THE GODFATHER PART II (and I'm saving THE GODFATHER for a future installment of Why It Works, anyway), so this week it's another two of the genre's finest: SCARFACE vs. GOODFELLAS. Make way for the bad guys!
Al Pacino as Tony Montana. One of the most iconic and mimicked performances of all time. While the portrayal borders on cartoony, SCARFACE is absolutely not the same film without Pacino's interpretation of the crazed Cuban.
Ray Liotta as Henry Hill. A solid performance to be sure, but not one of the most memorable elements of the film. No offense to Liotta, but GOODFELLAS would not feel like a completely different movie with another actor in the gangster's shoes.
Steven Bauer as Manny Ribera
Michelle Pfeiffer as Elvira Hancock
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Gina Montana
Robert Loggia as Frank Lopez
Paul Shenar as Alejandro Sosa

The supporting cast is excellent here, but SCARFACE is a one man show. Few characters other than Tony stand out as particularly impressive or noteworthy.
Robert De Niro as James Conway
Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito
Lorraine Bracco as Karen Hill
Paul Sorvino as Paul Cicero

While GOODFELLAS is the story of Henry Hill, the film plays more like an ensemble piece, so much so that Jimmy and Tommy are arguably more memorable and substantial characters than Henry himself.
A Cuban refugee enters the Miami drug trade, stops at nothing to make his way to the top, and gets in over his head in the process. This includes the purchase of a pet tiger.
An innocent Brooklynite joins up with the mob, climbing the ladder of organized crime and quickly finding himself seduced by a life of luxury and excitement.
The 1932 film of the same name (an adaptation of Armitage Trail's 1929 novel), which is loosely based on the rise and fall of Al Capone. Shout-out to Oliver Stone for an excellent script, by the way.
Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, a chronicling of the life of the real Henry Hill. GOODFELLAS was integral in removing the stigma that contemporary biographical films have to feel prosaic.
"Say hello to my little friend!"

"The only thing in this world that gives orders... is balls."

"I never f*cked anybody over in my life didn't have it coming to them."

"In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women."

"What you lookin' at? You all a bunch of f*ckin' assholes. You know why? You don't have the guts to be what you wanna be? You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your f*ckin' fingers and say, "That's the bad guy." So... what that make you? Good? You're not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don't have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There's a bad guy comin' through! Better get outta his way!"
"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster."

"I'm funny how? I mean funny like I'm a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh? I'm here to f*ckin' amuse you? What do you mean funny? Funny how? How am I funny?"

"Go home and get your f*ckin' shinebox."

"Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut."

"One day some of the kids from the neighborhood carried my mother's groceries all the way home. You know why? It was outta respect."

"For us to live any other way was nuts. To us, those goody-good people who worked shitty jobs for bum paychecks and took the subway to work every day and worried about their bills were dead. I mean, they were suckers. They had no balls. If we wanted something we just took it. If anyone complained twice they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again."
After a disturbing moment between Tony and Gina, all hell breaks loose in a coke-fueled shootout. One man versus a small army of Sosa's men, Tony Montana goes out like a proper gangster.
As GOODFELLAS is based on a true story, the finale here is more haunting than action-packed. Henry Hill goes into witness protection, doomed both to live the everyday life he always dreaded and to sleep with one eye open.
Brian de Palma delivers a fine, one of a kind film, but a dependence on style leaves the result feeling fairly dated today as well as a bit on the slow side.
Martin Scorsese is a master of the genre, and this is among his finest. Pacing, humor, drama, music, and style all work together to make a film that still holds up against its contemporaries.
Domestic Total Gross: $44,668,798
IMDB: 8.3
Metacritic: 65 (User Score: 8.9)
Rotten Tomatoes: 83% (Audience Score: 94%)
3 Golden Globe nominations
Domestic Total Gross: $46,836,214
IMDB: 8.7
Metacritic: 89 (User Score: 9.0)
Rotten Tomatoes: 96% (Audience Score: 97%)
5 Golden Globe nominations, 5 Oscar nominations & 1 Oscar win (Joe Pesci: Best Actor in a Supporting Role)
207 f*cks (1.21 per minute)

"I'm Tony Montana! You f*ck with me, you f*ckin' with the best!"
300 f*cks (2.05 per minute)

"You know Spider, you're a f*ckin' mumbling stuttering little f*ck. You know that?"
44 kills (44 onscreen)

"I kill a communist for fun, but for a green card... I'm gonna carve him up real nice."
10 kills (5 onscreen)

"What are we going to do with him? We can't dump him in the street."
There's no doubt these are two of the most influential mob movies of all time, but GOODFELLAS is ultimately a more well-made film that holds up better over the years. That said, the legacy of SCARFACE can't be denied. While several films out there feel like a version of Scorsese's picture (including a few by Marty himself), the unique style of de Palma's direction and Pacino's oft-imitated performance make SCARFACE a truly one of a kind film. Granted, choosing between these two movies is like picking a favorite child for most fans of the genre, so I'll leave you to duke it out in the comments below. BLACK MASS rises to power next Friday, September 18th. Now go home and get your f*cking shinebox.

Agree? Disagree? Which do you prefer?

If you have a suggestion for a future Face-Off, let us know below or send me an email at [email protected].



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