The UNpopular Opinion: Scarface

Written by: Aaron the H

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

“I didn’t come to the United States to break my fu¢kin’ back!” – Tony M.

Before I rip into this supposed classic, first thing’s first- I have never seen the original 1932 flick, so I won’t draw any comparisons to that. That said, I absolutely LOVE the gangster genre. My MFC page will tell you that Goodfellas is among my top 10 all-time, and The Godfather Trilogy was the second DVD I ever purchased (after The Karate Kid). But the key difference between De Palma’s cuban gangster ‘epic’ and the true classics is that great films stand the test of time. Scarface holds up today about as well as Richard Simmons’ short shorts. Where the true classics feature gangsters that have emotional complexity and evolving character arcs, Scarface features an entire cast of thugs that are one-note evil from opening scene to closing credits. 

I might not have as big a problem with the film if it weren’t worshipped by so many gangstas, wannabe gangstas and frat boys alike. You know, that iconic poster of Tony Montana in stark black & white that every rapper who’s ever appeared on MTV’s “Cribs” enshrines over their mantle? But posters are just the beginning. Worse still, as evidenced by the recent video game release, the film’s popularity seems only to be increasing with age, as the legend of Tony Montana is built up, immortalized and envied by countless millions. But why? Lets break Tony down… 

“Your little ones will go wild over Tony’s crackpipe accessory kit and ho-slappin’ action!”

Montana (Pacino) knifes a Cuban government official in the film’s first 5 minutes. He spends the rest of the movie (spoiler alert) scowling and whining, yelling and mumbling, beating his wife and sister, murdering his friends, and snorting mountains of his own blow. He ultimately ends up face down in his own fountain, shot in the back like a bitch by a nameless goon. This is the character everyone romanticizes. Why, because he can wield a big machine gun and yell? In that case, root for Rambo or John McClane instead. They shoot bad guys- not become them. Justice is the product they peddle, not nose candy.

But hey, I understand the whole “anti-hero” angle, and I’m always a sucker for a good one (Charles Barkley has always been my favorite athlete). In fact, Pacino himself had the anti-hero down to perfection- in The Godfather and Dog Day Afternoon for starters (and to an extent in De Palma’s Carlito’s Way). But in the end, those characters always showed at least some form of morals, humility or conscience. Tony, who’s arguably risen as a bigger cultural icon than them all, displays only greed, bitterness, and bloodlust. If he is who our generation has chosen to look up to, then we’re all in for a world of trouble (and I’m a dead man for crafting this blasphemic column).

Baking a cake proved to be more difficult than Tony imagined.

Baking a cake proved to be more difficult than Tony imagined.

Tony and his offensive accent aside, the film has a slew of other problem characters as well. The great Robert Loggia is bafflingly miscast and gives a truly bizarre portrayal as Tony’s drug boss. He wears Jewish gold around his neck and occasionally mumbles Yiddish, then quickly veers off into an unintelligible Hispanic accent, all the while looking like he overstayed his welcome in the tanning salon. For a powerful kingpin with a booming empire, he and his henchmen come off about as intimidating as Dora the Explorer and Monkey Boots.

The ‘love’ interest of the film, Michelle Pfeiffer, portrays her character adequately, but is ultimately doomed because she has nothing to do here. She never flashes a single smile, is addicted to coke and booze from start to finish, and marries one drug czar followed by another without ever showing a speck of attraction to either of them. Despite all the screen-time devoted to her and Tony, there’s absolutely zero love between them, so really, what’s the point? It’s as if Oli Stone (who wrote the screenplay) realized he created a character in Tony that was so despicable, he didn’t feel the need to waste his time crafting a love story he knew wouldn’t be believable.

The truly great gangster films are remembered for their incredible ensembles (Corleone family much?), but the members of Scarface’s supporting cast are as richly-layered as Shredder, Beebop and Rocksteady. Maybe that’s what makes Tony look so great in comparison? Hell, even Pacino himself- one of the finest actors of any generation- seems to be playing more of a caricature than a character here, but I won’t touch that (I don’t want to get knifed too).

Hard-core gangster film...or TGIF family sitcom? You be the judge.

Hard-core gangster flick…or TGIF sitcom?

The overly melodramatic score is outshone only by a soundtrack featuring pop ballads (and cheesy montages) so unbelievably 80’s, they’ve surely been parodied on “South Park” by now (just did some research and sure enough, they have). The flamboyantly flashy technicolor costumes (yes, even for 1980’s Miami) make the Saturday Night Fever boys look like they’re dressing for the Dark Ages. On the other side of the spectrum, the editing is bland (and at times again horribly melodramatic), with the exception of some well-cut shootouts and intense action beats. Finally, the film’s messages come through about as subtle as a tsunami. At one point, the now famous tagline, “The World is Yours”, is literally broadcast on the side of a blimp. Yes, literally. And yet, despite the in-your-faceness of the film’s moral, it remains one that seems to have been lost in translation (I’m convinced Tony’s not speaking English), as evidenced by the film’s ever-growing merchandising phenomenon.

“It really tied the room together.”

Despite all my criticisms, I do want to say that Scarface is not without its merits; it’s the Mommy Dearest of the gangster genre. If it’s to be considered a classic, it should be one for all the wrong reasons- kitschy dialogue, a zany soundtrack, over-the-top characters and gratuitous violence, all of which I’ll admit I took some sort of joy in watching. What I did not take from the film was a single envious quality in our protagonist; hell, I don’t even think Tony liked himself. So to think his cold-blooded demeanor and over-zealous kingpin life of excess are the coolest things since Von Dutch and FUBU is to forget how Montana eventually goes to Hell: friendless, loveless, coked out, backstabbed, miserable, and face down in his own palace- a clear message De Palma tried (and somehow epically failed) to convey. Tony Montana was not a champ- he was a chump. Put that on your wall and frame it.

The ‘anti-hero’ space on my wall is reserved for Taxi Driver. Travis Bickle would have had a field day with this cock-a-roach.


About the Author

16 Articles Published