I must be one of the few people of my generation to have seen the original 1932 version of Scarface before seeing the remake. Not a boast or anything, just one of those weird things that happen when you bust your wrist and watch your way through your mum’s DVD collection.
What I didn’t realise when watching the original Scarface is just how similar the main beats of the story would be between the two films. Especially the origins and the sequence of events that lead to the main character’s downfall. Obviously there had to be an update to make this a 1980s film. Bootleg booze becomes cocaine and a recent immigrant from Italy turns into a Cuban (although given Al Pacino’s background he probably would have been more suited to the original character).
Now, I know that Brian De Palma’s Scarface is highly regarded now (much more than when it was first released) and has become one of those oft-quoted and pastiched films. It’s pulpy take on gangsters and the gratuitous amounts of swearing and violence has left an impact on pop culture. I mean one of my favourite video games (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City) derives a lot from this.
And yet, I really didn’t think this film was all it was cracked up to be. For one thing it’s about 30-40 minutes too long. I get that this was an attempt to make a pulpy gangland epic, but this is no Once Upon A Time In America.
I also (and this is going to be controversial) question Al Pacino in this film. I am trying to find the point where his acting changed from the excellent work of Dog Day Afternoon and The Godfather to whatever type of acting we saw in Scent of a Woman. In Scarface… he just has one emotion, various shades of furious. Also, at 43 he isn’t quite the right age for Tony Montana unless they has instituted a 7-10 year time jump.
Then there is the fact that this film is painfully eighties. I swear it’s one of the few decades to have films where the music cues badly age the movies. There is a bit in a South Park episode where they skew the typical eighties montage, what I did not know is that the song (‘Push It To The Limit’) was from Scarface. That was a weird moment.
Overall it’s isn’t like I didn’t enjoy this film. I gave it a 6 out of 10 on IMDB (yes, I rate every film I see) which, to me, means it was good enough, but with some fundamental flaws. I think that’s fair.