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Scarface Review

Overblown, overlong, overrated. Those three words could certainly be applied to Scarface, perhaps the best-known film to be directed by Brian De Palma. A lengthy titan that preceded the Scorsese gangster triumphs of the 90s, Scarface showcases the rise and fall of drug kingpin Tony Montana (Al Pacino). It’s bloody, it’s violent, and, above all, it’s a well-crafted piece of film that just about puts together that earns its long stay on the screen. The pop culture it has since spawned, the references made to its source material in various other films, is undeniable. But I was dubious at best on whether or not the source material would actually stand up on its own merits.

It does manage to do so, just about, anyway. Scarface begins to buckle from time to time, held together by the engaging direction of De Palma. His utilisation of contemporary 80s music and stylish camera work leads to a great foundation that the stars of the show can leap from. F. Murray Abraham in particular works wonders with the few scenes he receives, a chilling gangster at the best of times, it’s just a shame he doesn’t have a couple more lines that really bite into what the script has to offer. Most of the best moments go to Pacino, and rightly so. Montana isn’t the most interesting character by the end of the film. A Cuban immigrant, looking to escape the clutches of communism, his rise to power is far more interesting than his inevitable fall. By the time we get to his high points, he becomes a caricature of what every other gangster film looks to present. Drugged up, armed, suited and booted leading character that doesn’t resemble anything charismatic or interesting.

There is definitely noticeable growth for our leading character, it’s just not growth that really feels worth the investment. Worthwhile characters can be found in the supporting cast, however even they feel a tad one-note. One trick up their sleeve and nothing much else outside of that. Steven Bauer’s supporting role as Manny Ribera, for instance, is a role that has more depth than being just the right-hand man of a notorious gangster. It’s well performed, but Ribera never escapes the shadow of Pacino, and is never able to give us something that a script of this floundering capacity would ever allow. Michelle Pfeiffer is much the same, a damsel in distress that has the personality of a wet cake, flouncing around the screen. Thankfully her big break in Scarface led to much stronger performances later on down the line.

A memorable first act eventually slips into a comatose state, as the predictability of the second act and resulting climax shifts us from an excellent, powerful set of characters to cruising through on Pacino’s performance. It’s very much the Pacino show right here, never a moment where I felt the supporting performances were utilised in an engaging or interesting way. Not a single second where it feels as if their development will somehow have a knock-on effect to Montana. Most of these moments happen out of the blue, a tragically predictable piece, but one that brings about a certain level of enjoyment thanks to Pacino’s commitment to the leading role.

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Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet


  1. ‘Overblown, overlong, overrated’ are exactly the opposite words to describe Howard Hawks’s 1932 original. Now that’s a great film. But I actually like Brian de Palma’s film quite a bit as well – it makes the incestuous undercurrent much more obvious and disturbing, and the image of Pacino in his huge mansion surrounded by piles of cocaine, yet broken and paranoid and destroyed by his lifetime of greed, is certainly a powerful one. Interesting to read your opinions though.

    • Hawks’s original looks like a marvellous time, shamefully I’ve not had the chance to check it out yet! de Palma’s film is strong, powerful imagery from time to time, I can’t help but feel that there was definite room for improvement in his fall from power. Still a good time though! Pacino is mesmerising. Appreciate you taking the time to read!

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