Most helpful positive review
210 of 241 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2003
The reason to buy this DVD is simple: one of the most influential films of the 20th century has finally been released in a newly restored, pristine transfer. As an owner of the original DVD release, I can testify that the difference is like night and day.
With every viewing, I come to appreciate Brian DePalma's Scarface more and more. Although not perfect, there is much more right with this film than wrong. It helps to compare it with its countless imitations: where most subsequent crime films rush headlong from one bloody gunfight to the next, Scarface takes its time. Its languid, gliding camera has a certain elegance in the way it reveals story points without relying on clunky Dick-and-Jane dialog or overwrought MTV pyrotechnics. A prime example is the infamous scene where Tony Montana (Al Pacino) attemps to buy two kilos of cocaine from some Coloumbians for his boss, Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia). Watch the way the camera drifts from the Miami Beach hotel room, across a peaceful sun-drenched street, over to the car where Tony's associates are waiting for him, then slowly back up to the bathroom window, where the sound of the idling chainsaw grows louder. Creepy. Insinuating. It's comparable to the best work of Hitchcock - a day-lit nightmare where the ordinary becomes sinister. Watch closely as the Columbian dismembers Tony's friend limb by limb. In spite of the scene's reputation, we never actually see what's happening. Like the shower murder in Psycho, all the violence is implied - so strongly, in fact, that DePalma had to fight the MPAA in a well-publicized battle to keep Scarface from receiving an X rating.
It's interesting the way that the improved picture and sound seem to contribute to every aspect of the film. Subtleties in Pacino's largely unsubtle performance become clear. We can better see what he does with his face in those famously shadowy close-ups; the way he registers what he's thinking privately, even as he swaggers with exaggerated bravado. Where once it seemed he was over-acting at times, it is now apparent that he was carefully playing his character's machismo against a darker undercurrent of great hunger - so intense that it defies articulation. Tony Montana's great tragedy is his utter lack of self-knowlege. Beneath the clouds of cordite and testosterone, he is so painfully needy that he will draw everyone around him into a decaying orbit of destruction. He is a criminal, but he is not immoral. He is a black hole of a man, a vacuous human being whose desires eclipse whatever soul that a life of deprivation and decay may have left him. He acts without apology, or even much thought. He's an animal in both the best and worst senses of the word. The tragedy is not so much that he is killed at the end - he brings that on himself - it is that so many others, not least the addicts that buy his product, must suffer and die as well. It's downright Shakespearean, but with (lots of) f-words in place of gilded Elizabethan speech.
Once you get past those 160-odd f-variants, Oliver Stone's screenplay begins to seem as thoughtful as it is blunt. The language is harsh, but also truthful, with plenty of quotable lines (though you would not want to quote them in polite company).
The improved sound mix also brings into relief something that I had always looked upon as a liability of Scarface - the very "80's" music score, which had always seemed to me the newer equivalent of those ham-handed "jazz" scores from certain 50's melodramas like Man With the Golden Arm. But now the music seems "dated" more in the way of an early James Bond score; it is appropriate to the era. Were Scarface made now, it would still be a legitimate choice of styles.
The extras are thorough, though the "making of" documentary seems to be a longer version of the one from the original DVD release. There is also a documentary on Scarface's considerable influence on hip-hop music, but I smell an Obvious Plug for a CD of music "inspired" by the film. (The package insert proclaims that it's In Stores Now! from DefJam records.)
In any case, Scarface has finally received its due respect in a form that showcases the late John Alonso's brightly-hued, yet somehow gritty cinematography. Alonso also photographed the sumptuous Chinatown. This DVD is also a tribute to him - a master of light and shadow, whose old-fashioned, hard-lit chiaroscuro images contributed in no small way to Scarface's status as a modern classic.