Sunday, 7 September 2014

Scarface (1983)

The original King Kong is a taut 80-some minutes.  Peter Jackson's remake is twice as long and half as good, if that.  Something similar can be said of this update of the fine 1932 film by the two Howards (Hawks and Hughes).  Not that De Palma's effort is anything near as tiresome and bloated as Jackson's, but at 170 minutes it is indulgently long.  Not even a strong cast - including Al Pacino looking a lot younger than his then-42 years - can save it from feeling like it could stand to lose a half hour or so.

Pacino is Tony Montana, an exile from Castro's Cuba.  He leaps into the Florida underworld with both feet, swiftly rising to be one of the right hand men of a local crime boss, Frank Lopez.  Tony's not the best of fits for the lieutenant role, though.  He's too fond of making decisions for himself, and entirely too fond of Frank's wife.  It won't be long before relations between the two begin to break down.

Well actually, it will be quite long, because like I said: this movie could do with being shorter.  Frank and Tony don't really get down to settling their differences until the 90-100 minute mark.

It's here the movie loses some steam for me.  I also find the opening a bit slow, but once Tony's become a wise guy it moves along pretty well until Frank meets his sticky end (Pacino's on the cover of the DVD, so I don't think it's a spoiler to tell you he supplants his former boss).  Thereafter, it feels more like a very loosely connected series of vignettes rather than a cohesive whole.  It's been a film that always took a pretty relaxed attitude to narrative; plenty of leaps in time and changes of focus; but I feel like this is done more deftly in the first half.

It sounds like I didn't like the film, and that's not a fair appraisal.  The performances are strong, with Pacino offering his usual strong effort.  I do wish they'd given Michelle Pfeiffer more to do, though.  Many of the vignettes are well done, too.  They convey Tony's restless, aggressive style and the way he rides the edge in most things he does.  This is not a character who gets everything his own way, and there's a nice juxtaposition in how his flaws and his virtues ultimately erode the power and wealth that he's built up.

A well-made film, it's just a bit too long.  It's also got lots of strong violence and bad language, so consider that a warning if those are things you dislike.

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