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Scarface (1983)

“Nothing exceeds like excess.”

Is Scarface the ultimate eighties movie? As trashy and flashy as a Duran Duran video, Brian De Palma’s remake of Howard Hawks’ 1932 gangster classic certainly captures the fabled ‘greed is good’ mantra of the eighties. Following the story of Cuban immigrant Tony Montana as he builds a drugs empire from scratch, we see the lures and the lurid horror of capitalism and the pursuit of the idea ‘the world is yours’.

It is this pinpointing of the eighties zeitgeist which makes this remake successful in its own right, even when the ideas, characters and even images are not original; and it is true that in some respects it hasn’t much to add to the 1932 film besides bright red blood, neon lights and a patchy synth soundtrack. While some of the music is quite good, there are excruciating moments in the score where a shooting on screen is accompanied by overly dramatic punctuation from the accompanying synthesizers.

But can you accuse Scarface of being overly dramatic? Isn’t that the point? It is a grand operatic, violently melodramatic soap opera. It is supposed to be over the top, in the way that Tony’s hideously vulgar furniture for his empire once he has made it is supposed to be over the top. It is unfailingly enjoyable, but also more knowing than it at first appears.

At first I dismissed Scarface as lacking the polish of a Scorsese and the irony of a Tarantino – but it is not without the beginnings of both of these. Hints of self-referential post-modernism creep in when a stoned Tony tells a busy restaurant of aghast diners “You need me, I’m the bad guy!”

Pacino puts in a bravura performance as the anti-heroic Montana, although I have to say I was never completely convinced by his Cuban accent. Scarface is the story of one man’s rise and fall, the qualities of ruthlessness and greed which get him to the top become his downfall as he alienates (or kills) those close to him and violates the golden rule ‘don’t get high on your own supply’.