Tonight’s entry in the Movies Everybody Has Already Seen Except Me Marathon was the Brian DePalma classic Scarface. Now, I realize the movie is 24 years old, but I’ve got to throw myself on the mercy of the internets here, because I just don’t get it.
I’ve been looking around for some kind of explanation, but people keep writing about it as if it were a real movie. Not just back then, but even now, after they’ve had time to reflect. I’m pretty sure I saw the same movie as everyone else, since they describe a lot of the same scenes. But the movie I saw is one that you walk away from with your head down, trying not to make eye contact with anyone involved. If it happens to come up in conversation, you acknowledge it and then quickly change the subject. You pretend it never happened. You sure as hell don’t celebrate it and make a videogame and a 20th Anniversary Edition.
Where do you start? The casting? I made fun of the critics of Memoirs of a Geisha, who complained that Chinese actresses were cast to play Japanese women. I want to publicly retract my mockery now, because I think I can understand how it would be offensive at worst, just plain odd at best.
I mean, in Scarface you’ve got DePalma casting Al Pacino, and sure, that kind of makes sense. His part has to carry the whole movie, so you need a heavy-hitter, and it’s unlikely anyone other than Pacino would’ve been able to carry it off. So yeah, Pacino as a Cuban, why not? F. Murray Abraham: still too early to call; so far he’s just vaguely “ethnic.” I’m watching scenes with Robert Loggia for about 15 minutes before I realize he’s trying to do an accent — sure enough, I pause to go look it up on the IMDB, and he’s playing a guy named “Lopez.” By the time they had Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (complete with Roseanne Roseannadanna hair) as Montana’s Cuban sister — introduced alongside their mother, who is inexplicably played by a Latina actress — I just gave up. Apparently they’re all from the Little Sicily part of Havana.
Apologists keep acknowledging that Pacino’s performance was “over the top,” which I don’t get. He was pretty much the stable center of this ridiculous movie. He’s so committed to the part, I started to believe he was more authentic than his second in command, who was actually born in Cuba. When you’ve got a montage sequence set to a Giorgio Moroder soundtrack, where immediately after the bride and groom kiss, the entire wedding party walks down to the stream to stand and look at the tiger they’ve got chained up to a tree on the other side — everything Pacino does seems understated in comparison.
It’s like everything I was ever told about the movie is wrong. Nobody mentioned it was almost three hours, for one thing. People said it was the story of the “rise and fall” of a drug dealer; it’s more like three hours of a drug dealer doing random things to piss people off. And people described it as ultra-violent; DePalma (and Oliver Stone) blew their entire wad with the chainsaw scene at the beginning, and everything from that point on was just a hair more graphic than what you’d see on “The A-Team.” (The scene where a guy gets thrown from a helicopter was my favorite; they watch it play out via binoculars, and you can not only hear the guy scream, but his neck snap. Those are good binoculars!)
It’s too long and boring to be a comedy. So I can only assume that while they were making it, they really thought it was a serious film. I don’t know; maybe I’m not giving them enough credit. The first scene shows Montana bluffing his way through a police interrogation — maybe they were bluffing everybody with this movie and have managed to get away with it for all these years.