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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Scarface (1983)
Triple Play (Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy)


Starring: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Universal Pictures UK
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 18
Available 05 September 2011

When Castro enacted his revolution in Cuba, he expelled thousands who he felt were a danger to the revolution, including twenty-five thousand criminals and low lives, all of whom ended up on the shores of Florida...

Scarface (1983 - 2 hr, 50 min) is a crime film directed by Brian De Palma from a script by Oliver Stone.

Scarface is an interesting film, far and above some of the clichés which are contained in Stone's script. Hollywood, as a reflection of the wider society, had been making films which represented the wider social mores. Early films celebrated the cult of the individual, especially gangster and westerns. Here, generally, were men set apart from, and at times even in conflict with, their wider society and for a time the individual was a cause for celebration. However, with the advent of the cold war, films started to push the idea of consensus, that there was the greater good to which individual desires must be subsumed. The cult of the non-conformist was no longer cool and happy endings were compulsory.

Of course, Scarface is a study of nonconformity, the collective plurality which America believes its culture is based on demands conformity. Whilst, criminality is one of the greatest nonconformities, the character of Tony takes his individualism one step further by refusing to even conform to the norms of the criminal underworld. This creates the seeds of his inevitable downfall as he not only becomes the target of legitimate authority, in the form of the police, but also the target of the holders of illegitimate power. His only recourse is to trust to ties of family and friendship, but even here his single mindedness drives a wedge between Tony and those around him.

Stone's script further demonises Tony by first making him an immigrant, the ultimate outsider, but also hints at Tony having an unhealthy interest in his sister. This is certainly the way that De Palmer shot the film, on every level we are not supposed to sympathise with this character. Al Pacino (Tony) plays a completely different character to that in The Godfather; Michael was ruthless out of necessity and his decent into hell, slow and inevitable. Tony, on the other hand, throws himself into violence, sometimes for violence’s sake, the ending with Tony taunting his enemies to kill him could so easily have turned into a joke, but in the steady hands of Pacino, even the dodgiest speech can somehow seem real and reasonable.

So the film follows Tony’s rise to power. In Florida, he kills his way to the top, using the trafficking of drugs to create the wealth he needs to buy off people. Money becomes his obsession, less than power. For Tony money is the path to power, whilst at the same time missing the fact that there are other forms of power. To add to his entourage he takes the beautiful Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer) as a token wife, in fact it is soon clear that Tony sees everyone as some form of token. After an argument with his wife and best friend, Tony rails against them that the only person who he trusts is himself, but as we have seen the era of the individual is dead, without the consensus of the wider group Tony was always destined to fail.

The film displays all of Brian De Palma’s stylistic motifs, although oddly enough, given the amount of blood and violence, Scarface feels more restrained, but it is certainly the most masterful film by the director. Although it was a remake of a Hawks film, the two are so different as to make comparisons difficult.

Scarface has appeared in a number of special editions over the years, so why would you want to part with your cash for the Blu-ray version? Always a good looking film, the higher level of detail and colour makes the film almost difficult to watch - this is especially the case at the beginning of the film with the insanely bright shirts. The audio has also been cranked up, with the inclusion of an English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround remix, not exactly one for the purists, but certainly an improvement over the original.

The discs extras have mostly been found on previous DVD releases, though there are some new content for the Blu-ray.

The Scarface Phenomenon (38 min, 34 sec) is a new feature not previously available, which looks at the film's legacy with contributions from De Palmer, Martin Bregman (Producer), actors Steven Bauer, Robert Loggia, Richard Beltzer, as well as representatives from the film making world (Eli Roth, Keith Gordon Antoine Fuqua) Musician Sen Dogg, as well as a number of others. Here everyone loves the film and doesn’t really have a bad word to say about it

The World of Tony Montana (11min, 38 sec) has a bunch of real life DEA’s talking about what the crime trade was really like in the eighties. Deleted Scenes (22 min, 29 sec), there’s some good stuff here but nothing which is really missed from the final cut. The Rebirth (10 min, 08 sec) is the usual small featurette about the genesis of the film.

The Acting (15 min, 05 sec), well it discusses the acting, with contributions from Bauer, John Alonzo as well as Pacino’s fellow actors. The Creating (29 min, 35 sec) is another making of, not bad as it discusses some interesting facts from making the film.

Scarface: The TV Version (2 min, 48 sec) consists of clips of a version of the film aired on television, a feat in itself, considering the film has two hundred and twenty-nine instances of the word "f*ck" and over eight thousand five hundred gun shots, not exactly your normal Sunday afternoon movie. The Making of Scarface: The Video Game (12 min 05 sec), it’s an advert.

Scarface has continued to be interesting on a number of levels. Its only weakness is the occasional dip in the script, but for its few problems it has been recognised a one of the great American films.


Charles Packer

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