In the spring of 1980, the Mariel boatlift brought thousands of Cuban refugees to the sun-washed avenues of Miami in search of the American dream. From acclaimed director Brian DePalma, Scarface is the rags-to-riches story of Tony Montana (Al Pacino), who finds wealth, power and passion beyond his wildest dreams…at a price he never imagined. Tony Montana’s meteoric rise, lavish life and soul-destroying fall anchor an epic film that inspired a worldwide following. Pacino is at his most memorable as Montana, blasting his way to the top of Miami’s drug underworld in a bravura performance.
During its initial theatrical release, Brian De Palma's 'Scarface' sparked a maelstrom of controversy and a harshly critical reaction for the movie's seemingly endless display of violence and strong profanity. Undeniably, this remake of the 1932 gangster classic from Howard Hawks does feel somewhat excessive in those areas, but it's also warranted considering the subject matter. As an interesting side note, the original, too, generated a great deal of controversy for its portrayal of the gangster lifestyle. In spite of this, the ultra-violent movie went on to become a moderate box-office success, most likely due to a curiosity created by the endless negativity from the press. Over the decades, it has grown into a fascinating cultural phenomenon and one of the most idolized cult films of all time.
In those same years, sentiments about 'Scarface' have also radically changed. What was once viewed as a wallowing, shallow pit of decadence is now praised, and even heralded as I am doing now, as a masterpiece of the genre, reaching the higher echelons of such loved classics as 'The Godfather,' 'Goodfellas,' 'The French Connection' and 'Chinatown.' And frankly, the film rightly deserves the recognition. Its brilliance comes partly from an outstanding script by the still-emerging Oliver Stone. On the surface, the story is about the rise and fall of a dangerously powerful drug kingpin, but on a deeper level, the epic crime drama is also about us as a modern society. Essentially, it's a twisted, hyperbolic, and perverse vision of the American Dream, of what happens when unabashed, unrestrained greed takes over completely in an era that embraces overindulgence.
With that in mind, De Palma creates a nightmarish portrait of a civilization that celebrates and slowly festers in its own excess. The director of the beloved favorites 'Carrie,' 'Dressed to Kill' and 'Blow Out' uses slow, skillful camera movements, which are deliberately patient and measured, perfectly capturing the narrative's already-leisured progression to the inevitable. The film says nothing new about the criminal lifestyle which hasn't already been heard or seen countless of times. But De Palma engages his viewers nevertheless with a boundless, energetic flare that's as visually arresting as it brilliantly subtle and seamless. Taking a restrained, nonjudgmental approach to the plot, he is able to generate suspense and apprehension more through dialogue than the violence on display.
During the chainsaw-dismemberment scene with the Colombians, notice the camera gradually shift away through the window, giving audiences an exterior view of a beautiful, sunny day at the beach. When we go back inside, a horrifying murder is taking place, and although we never actually see it done in front of the camera, it is powerfully suggestive and intense. Another amazing scene is Tony Montana (Al Pacino) confronting Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia). Despite being mostly a ten minute conversation about a club shootout, the tension is unbearably high as Tony patiently assures himself of the betrayal. Then, De Palma switches to a montage sequence that commences with a money counter. The rapid pace at which the money moves matches Tony's sudden rise to power, which is also the purpose of the montage and equally serving as foreshadow to his swift downfall.
Without a doubt, De Palma's style and pizzazz behind the camera would be all for nothing if not for the utterly unforgettable performance by the legendary Al Pacino. He will, of course, always be remembered as the head of the Corleone family. But after that, no portrayal of his is as cherished, often mimicked, impersonated, and quoted as his embodiment of a revered and terrifying Latino drug lord. Pacino is not merely acting the role. He quite literally transforms himself into one of the most ruthless, coldblooded criminals ever seen on screen, but he also shockingly humanizes the monster. Even during his quite moments of reflection, we can see in Pacino's eyes a man whose empire is crumbling before him. After several references to the phrase "The World Is Yours," a loving homage to the original Howard Hawks film, Pacino stares blankly at a mountain of cocaine, realizing the kingdom he created is as fragile as the white powder amassed before him.
Working from a brilliant screenplay by Oliver Stone, Brian De Palma's 'Scarface' is an outstanding crime drama, one which wonderfully epitomizes the genre as well as transcend it with a spectacular conclusion that's as exciting as it is memorable. The stylized remake is surprisingly more than the sum of its violent parts, delivering a larger-than-life, hellish and corrupt portrait of ambition and success. With a celebrated and idolized performance by Al Pacino, the remarkable film has rightfully earned its place as a gangster classic.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment releases 'Scarface (1983)' to Blu-ray as a limited two-disc package. The second disc is a DVD-5 of the original Howard Hawks film while the first is a Region Free, BD50 with Brian De Palma's remake and special features. Both are housed in a collectible and very attractive steelbook package with one disc sitting comfortably atop the other. Inside, owners will find a code for the digital copy as well as 10 postcards featuring fan-made artwork. At startup, viewers can watch a series of internet-based previews, which are skippable, before being greeted by Universal's standard menu selection.
Brian De Palma's 'Scarface' arrives packing heat with this strong 1080p/VC-1 encode (2.35:1) that for a majority of the movie's runtime dazzles beneath Florida's tropical heat. Unfortunately, there is also some evidence of foul play in several sequences that are sure to raise paranoid suspicions. Though nothing overtly intrusive or obnoxiously explicit, the dreaded DNR application can be seen moping around, mostly in the beginning and during nighttime scenes where grain is normally expected to be slightly thicker. It can be somewhat distracting, especially if you're looking for it, but it does little to ruin the film's overall enjoyment.
On a more positive note, the rest of the transfer displays very good fine object detailing, particularly in exterior scenes with lots of sun. The gaudy suits and the intricate, tacky design of Tony's mansion are made plainly visible and distinct. Facial complexions appear healthy and appropriate to the climate with great texture in the skin, especially during close-ups. Sequences taking place at night with poor lighting conditions maintain great visibility in the shadows, and black levels are richly intense and penetrating, providing the image with a beautiful cinematic quality. Contrast, too, is spot-on and crisp to give the picture a bright, sunny appeal without compromising the finer details. Primaries are noticeably vivid and dazzling, creating a strange sense of irony living in a place full of life and joy but endlessly surrounded by violence and death, while the softer, pastel hues are also bold and energetic.
This remastered video presentation of 'Scarface' isn't perfect, but it looks great on Blu-ray nonetheless with several splendid moments of high-def goodness.
The epic crime classic hits home theaters with a rather spectacular DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. It won't exactly compare to the more turbulent tracks of modern movies, but the design is put to excellent use, employing the rears satisfyingly for mild atmospherics and the musical score. There are several good moments of immersion to be had, especially during nightclub scenes as the song selections spread into the background. Action sequences are also exciting with bullets flying from one speaker to the next flawlessly and explosions carry a healthy oomph considering the movie's age.
Being a dialogue-driven drama, however, the majority of the lossless mix is delivered in the front soundstage where vocals remain well-prioritized and clear. Channel separation is terrifically balanced with convincing off-screen effects that are discrete, creating an expansive imaging that's warm and inviting. Even at its loudest, the mid-range delivers remarkable clarity and fidelity, so that listeners don't miss a single beat. The low-end is appropriate for the recording's period but also punchy to provide plenty of the depth to the high-rez track. The entire mix overall is a splendid listen and highly enjoyable, appreciably complemented by the film's original stereo design as a second audio option.
For this Blu-ray edition of 'Scarface (1983),' fans are treated to a collection of bonus features from two separate special edition DVD releases, the Anniversary and the Platinum. The only thing missing is the short Def Jam piece on the movie's influence on modern hip-hop.
Working from a brilliant screenplay by Oliver Stone, Brian De Palma's 'Scarface' is a dazzling, remarkable film, showing a hyperrealistic vision of the American Dream's dark side. With a memorable performance by Al Pacino as the much-worshipped Tony Montana, the stylized remake is an unforgettable journey that follows the ultra-violent rise and fall of a vicious drug kingpin. Once panned by critics everywhere during its initial release, the epic crime drama today is rightly celebrated as a cult classic and masterpiece of the genre. The Blu-ray arrives with some mild issues in the video department, but it's no video massacre. The audio presentation is excellent for a film of this vintage, and the healthy assortment of supplements makes this a must-own for hardcore fans everywhere.