This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Xtwelve’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
“You know what capitalism is? Getting fucked“
You fucking with the best was right, man is this ever one of the greatest films cultivated and carried out, and with assembly precision at that, though I guess that is a bad analogy considering nothing is really orderly about the production when you actually have a deeper look. Everyone is off the leash here, De Palma, Pacino especially, hell even John A. Alonzo (man, the use of neon colors is simply too satisfying) and while some filmmakers just can’t handle that kind of freedom these are certainly not among them because gosh darn it, Scarface is a film that has something to say and it’ll be dammed if it also doesn’t do so in the most captivating way imaginable. Actually, though, most of what I myself have to say about it is kind of negative, if only because the looming positives of a flick like this are either too obvious or too inexpressible to phrase without sounding like a corny film school student (though reading back what I wrote it really does just sound like a pretentious idiot explaining the convoluted thematics of his feature film to someone who doesn’t care, despite all my best efforts), so I’ll play the comparison game real quick so you can at least get a sense of my love for it.
Because, well in that regard this is like the geeky interpretation of a mob flick and it’s fucking beautiful to see (especially from someone to which being memorable, iconic, and re-watchable wins over almost anything else a film can give you) it uses plenty of complex filmmaking tricks but you can clearly see the pride and cinephiliac fulfillment that comes along with them.
It’s like Birds of Passage when taken to (yes, I know I compare every film with a little bit of debauchery and a mustached, 80s, well I mean this is the most 80s movie ever in general, Burt Reynolds looking villain to Boogie Nights, but whatever, so what) a flashy Boogie Nights or Casino similar level of beautiful visual excess yet also narratively spinning a heartbreaking and unstoppable tale of a lack of actual self-control.
Then throw on top a filmmaking scope only befit of Scorsese, mixed with the stylistic discipline and poetic, frenetic on-screen youthfulness from a Michael Mann or a Safdie Brothers (using similarly energetic, synthesized music and editing choices as well), not to mention some stakes that truly feel the height and establishment of the opening scene from Inglorious Bastards, to paint this dark and distinctly 80s portrait of the American Dream (almost like the Cuban drug lord Spring Breakers in a way), one that doesn’t falter under the weight of its themes or cop-out to a simple juxtaposition of the vility that underlies what really are, if you want to take it in a metaphorical context “streets lined with gold” taking into consideration how the drug empire preys on such regions (and also in a way the almost “Midas Touch” Tony has with his life, things always work out for him with money, he always gets and multiplies it, the problem is in having it consume everyone else in his life in the process) well, now you’ve got a film to remember on your hands.
It also packs a performance power from Pacino that just kicked Patrick Bateman’s ass to kingdom come for the place at the head of my favorite lead acting efforts of all time table (though I don’t know how I feel about a movie where that Al Pacino zaniness is not just a joke for the audience to laugh at, but one where the characters are in on how weird he is, it doesn’t quite sit well with me), because frankly, I’m sick of everyone saying Pacino is the man, the god, as a way of not really saying anything at all. No, the dude is nothing short of the best to ever do it and I really don’t know how else to say it.
No one and I mean no one else can spend half a scene making faces, gestures, and outbursts that will eventually become unforgettable internet memes and cement themselves within the upper echelon of 2006 gif-dom, to then seamlessly transitioning into maybe the most emotion monologue ever put to film in that of his “there goes the bad guy” speech, and somehow make both feel equally of this character and his mindset at the time. Which, to another point, this is also the first time Al Pacino isn’t just playing a role that was clearly written to be Al Pacino in a Will Smith, Tom Cruise, just play yourself sort of way. I mean, maybe there was some of that to a degree on Scarface (sidebar, it’s a real shame Oliver Stone could write nothing this dialogically advanced for any of his own directed films, like holy shit this may be my favorite screenplay ever penned when I stop to think about it), but Al is still playing a character, the yelling about how much he loves pussy and this guy, that guy being a cocksucker aside (maybe not even aside though, Scarface is kind of the film to birth coked-up crazy Pacino and that is a strength in more ways than a weakness), he is Tony Montana, probably more than anyone else has ever even been themselves.
So, really, what is it that I didn’t care for with Scarface? And, before you even say, no the length is actually perfect for building the investment needed for Tony’s arc to work, and though I have bequeathed this honor many a time, I actually and wholeheartedly mean it when I say this, and only this, is the quickest three hours I have ever felt in my life, end of story. Well, actually it has quite a bit more to do with a lack of genre, maybe more stylistic, balance because I mean, I’ll say it, as much as “action movie” has become a dirty word for film critics, while Scarface is still two parts crime drama, it still has that one part action blockbuster, and that’s not necessarily a bad ratio at all, in fact, it would have been perfect if both sides of the spectrum didn’t need to be contextualized within each other to give the full effect. Look at it this way, the action only really “works” because of what we hear characters say and do up until those breaking points, that gives the motivation for all the killing, the shooting, whatever, but, on the flip side, what the characters do and say is shaped by what actually happens during such action scenes, I mean that's just a basic rule of any action/reaction writing like ever.
And that’s not even the problem, in such a form these two mediums would be a self-fulfilling cycle of well-done storytelling and nobody gets hurt, but the problem is that inequal, 3:2 ratio from before, and I’m not the kind of guy calling out for more action in a film as flashy and already over-the-top as Scarface (or just in general I’m not a big action fan, even when I can see it’s well made), but most of the film is Pacino sitting in a car, a pool, sitting somewhere and talking about, expositing if you will, about what has and is happening on the drama side (or what is supposed to motivate the action), mostly a bi-product of the scope to which Scarface aspires to and needs to employ massive time jumps to execute, but nonetheless, things feel sort of disjointed, unmotivated, and really only because we get a tell and not a shown explanation for them.
Frankly, it feels cheap, lazy even, it’s not a deal-breaker per se, but it certainly makes things messy at points and not in that organized chaos way as I alluded to earlier. And, if we’re talking about certainties, it certainly doesn’t help either that the few times these two “mediums” strike in perfect unison, take the ending, for example, we get clear visual motivation for the action to come (mostly in an assortment of flimsy character deaths, but it works regardless), but then back to that ratio, because most of Scarface is actually, while still in a brash, tacky way mind you, a conversational drama film, so similar to how I feel about the bloody climax of Django Unchained for example, while justified, logical, motivated, all true, it still feels weird, empty almost, to have this “drama film” settled in such an action-heavy way, and one where more of the refined, slower-paced filmmaking I loved about the rest of it goes sort of on autopilot for a while, and only for the sake of blowing shit up. Pacino almost saves it, Giorgio Moroder almost saves it, in the end, De Palma’s continued ability to make me cry over the death of assholes does save it (does that make me an asshole, I don’t know), but all that still needed to be said from simply a storytelling perspective.
Man, what a picture, just thinking back there is so much of this film that I didn’t even touch on and yet could have a whole review written about it, or maybe not, it’s just entertaining as shit and maybe it’s best left at that. Either way, I probably have more respect for this film than anything else in my Top 10 and, for those who care it is the categorical, IMDB Top 100 masterpiece among them if you want to go there (though those ratings don’t mean shit, it’s like the classic of the bunch is all). Still, “The World is Yours...” is too fucking brilliant an encapsulation of the cynical perspective Scarface takes on the American Dream to be touched on as little as it is, that scene with Michelle Pfeiffer telling Al Pacino to “stop saying fuck all the time” is kind of the same way, thematically discussing what happens when you reach the top of both your ego and wealth, well, besides qualifying for the rare position of self-aware and unabashed Pacino fanfic come to life. Beautiful, utterly beautiful, put, and I do mean this, Scarface in a museum already (and that includes you, Criterion, who have neglected this for goodness knows what reason).