Off late, people have been ruing the fact that Al Pacino has not been his former self. In an earlier issue of The Gentleman, Pradeep Sebastian recalls the brooding characters that Pacino used to play in contrast to his recent, unduly expansive perfrmonces. Well, Scarface has a flamboyant Pacino and it is one of his earlier films. But this is a cult movie - a "good ol' gangster movie" (before such gangster movies became old).
Pacino stars as Tony Montana, one of more than a lakh Cuban refugees. Having landed in America, the land of his dreams, he looks to make it big. The first scene shows him recounting, to the inspector, how he used to idolize Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart and the like.
His demeanor makes it seem amusing and poignant at the same time - a person from a one of the very few strongholds of Communism, idolizing personas from an ideologically contrasting land. When Pacino says, "I'd kill a Cuban for fun, but for a Green Card, I'll carve him up real nice," you shudder at the hatred that he carries inside him.
He slips out of the refugee camp by doing a 'job' for a gangster. Hereon begins his journey to the point of no return, along with his friend Manny Ray (Steven Bauer). The gangster, Frank, hires him to do bigger and bigger jobs, and soon Tony becomes big enough to part ways with him.
Tony has an eye on Michelle Pfeiffer who is Frank's mistress. It doesn't take him long to kill Frank, marry Michelle and rule the underworld. That done, Tony becomes more and more arrogant and extravagant in his dealings.
Like all gangster characters, Tony too has his fetishes. First, he is overprotective towards his sister Gina. That, and his refusal to have children killed in his activities, hastens the end of his professional and personal life.
The first part brings the question of incest into the proceedings, though that is towards the very end. Gina, tired of her brother's intrusion, suggests to Tony that perhaps it's her that he desired all the time. This is quite a dramatic scene, not to say daring. Not much later, Tony meets a bloody end.
The present lot of audience would relate to Brian de Palma in either Mission Impossible or Mission To Mars - neither of which are close to Palma's earlier films, although the former remains as taut as his earlier offerings. His work used to be in the genre of film noir, which literally means black/dark films. These films are characterized by an all-pervasive gloom, not only in terms of the lack of light, but also in the ongoings onscreen.
Coming back to this movie, it was a film on a radically different scale in terms of the look that gangster films used to wear. A lot more violence and a certain rough demeanor are reflected in Pacino's character. But the trendsetter in this genre still has to be The Godfather.
Above all, it is a poignant look at the fate of political refugees who find themselves rootless even though they now live in the "Promised Land". Perhaps, inordinate ambition is their undoing. Pacino and Palma were to team up together again in Carlito's Way and this is the film that exemplifies the characters that Sebastian talks about. It is similar to a certain extent to this one as Pacino repeats the punk act but on a smaller scale. More about that, later.
One is sure that this film was a direct inspiration for the Amitabh starrer Agnipath. Some of the scenes have been directly lifted, and Amitabh's demeanor is nothing but an Indian equivalent of Pacino's.
The film isn't impeccable by any means as one feels that Pfeiffer's character lacks substance and everytime we see her, she sniffs cocaine. And like in every gangster movie, things happen a little too easily for the bad guys. But it still remains a wonderful movie with a stellar performance from Pacino.