The Brilliant Evil of Scarface

The bad guy
The bad guy

I have often claimed that such and such a film changed my life. As exaggerated as this statement might sound, films do have that much sway on me. Brian De Palma’s Scarface is such a film but it is unique because I’m not sure whether it made a positive impact on my life. Let me be clear, I love Scarface, to this day It holds a very special in my heart -a dark place.

Unbeknownst to me, I already knew a whole lot about Tony and his exploits before I ever set eyes on the film; “say hello to my little friend”, “never get high on your own supply”, “first you get the money.”  The familiarity didn’t stop me from being utterly blown away by this film. It captivated me like no other film had or has since. For example, I usually take positive lessons from morally ambitious films such as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, but with Scarface I wholeheartedly embraced the dark vision presented– as if the film was made by the Sith themselves. This film convinced me that sometimes greed can indeed be good (word to Gekko) and that crime can sometimes be the only escape. The 19 year old bear was blown away by the music, the colours and the unashamedly over the top nature of the film. Watching it back again with older eyes I find it astonishing how this film doesn’t feel cartoonish or absurd – the madness feels real and every credit for this has to go to De Palma.

I was so awestruck by this film that I literally couldn’t stop watching it for a couple of days despite having to study for my Psychology AS Level exams. I got a U in those exams and subsequently dropped the subject (don’t judge me).

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A lot of credit also has to go to Mr Pacino – I rank his performance in Scarface up among his greatest, next to Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico but not quite to the standard of his Godfather stuff. This may also mark the beginning of his now caricatured overacting, but the difference between his performance as Tony compared to the one as John Milton in the Devil’s Advocate is finite – he could have easily crossed the line into the wrong kind of overacting, but instead shows a queer king of subtly. Every moment of madness that Tony goes through is grounded through some moral code, whether that be killing Manny, Frank or Alberto. The fact that I understood and still understand why Tony did those things and other horrible actions makes me feel uncomfortable to this day but also points to the brilliance of Pacino’s performance.

So why did Scarface change my life? Well it made me understand that crime and criminals are complicated. When I watch the Godfather films, I was under no illusion that they were bad people but with Scarface and Tony Montana especially, I am not convinced that I should loath the characters (to be fair I didn’t loath both Vito or Michael Corleone). Like The Wire, it made me appreciate how criminals justify their actions and made their decent into the rabbit hole of crime real.

I appreciate that the De Palma version is itself a remake, but the news that Hollywood is seriously thinking about remaking this film breaks my heart. It still works for a modern audience – it is still shocking, over the top and strangely subtle. It is a masterpiece.

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