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Scarface

Year: 1983
Studio: Universal
Director: Brian De Palma
Producer: Martin Bregman
Writer: Oliver Stone
Cast: Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, Steven Bauer, Robert Loggia, Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio, F Murray Abraham

Dennis Hopper's 1988 LA gang drama Colors had a false positive effect. Meant to be a cautionary tale about that spiralling urban decay and poverty giving rise to the dangerous fraternities of drugged up, armed and angry young black men, it instead gave those eager to join such a world one of their templates (along with rap music) for speech, attitude and behaviour, and the film is widely credited with being instrumental in gang culture rather than helping stop it.

In a similar way, De Palma's fable about the dark underbelly of the American dream was a warning, its anti-hero Tony Montana (Pacino) a tragic figure and a classic cinematic black hat for his life of crime and violence.

But with such macho bluster, with both Montana's and the movie's proverbial nuts swinging in the wind, he's become a hero to every wannabe hood of every colour and creed across the world, endlessly quoted and revered.

It shoud be obvious - the point of the movie is that Tony dies in a hail of bullets in his gaudy fortress, enemies closing in from every side after his unchecked power has betrayed and killed those closest to him.

But it isn't. That final scene is just his heroic last stand. The real point is that he had the gaudy fortress, all the coke he wanted, the trophy wife and more money and power than he knew what to do with. Scarface is the tale of the American Dream because Montana is the Bill Gates of the underclass, the captain of a lucrative field with all the responsibilities and priviledges of any industry titan but in an economic sector that just happens to be illegal. He's the little guy made good, and how is that different to Rocky or a million other Cinderella archetypes from American cinema?

Pacino's depiction of Montana is way over the top in a way that can't be said to be good acting but suits the character perfectly. Montana is all cold, calculating id cut loose from the constraints that hold most of us back like love, morality and law and order. In that sense, there's no character arc whatsoever - he starts out a murdering slimeball, and ends up a murdering slimeball with a lot more money.

We meet him after he's arrived in the glitzy Miami of the early 80s after escaping Castro's Cuba with his best friend Manny. From the tenement slums where thousands of itinerant Cubans were crammed to the turf of local crime boss Frank (Loggia), Tony soons proves his mettle, as ruthless a killer as he is a businessman in the newly minted drug wars tearing the country in two.

The plot charts Montana's rise to the top where he learns the biggest tragedy of all - without enemies to kill, women to savagely want or anything else to win in life, there's nothing left for him and he becomes the paranoid hermit we see in the iconic finale shootout.

Besides being a loose remake of the Cagney mobster era, not a lot of fans might realise what a modern retelling of the legend of Faust this movie is. But I'll bet almost all of them can do a passable impression by saying 'Choot dis piece a chit.'

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