Thursday, 18 September 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1983: Al Pacino in Scarface

Al Pacino did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Tony Montana in Scarface.

Scarface depicts the rise of one man from a Cuban immigrant to the head of a drug cartel. Obviously meant to be the most subtle picture ever made by having two masters of subtly behind the film with Brian De Palma as the director and Oliver Stone as the writer. As a gangster film it fails to have the intimacy or complexity of The Godfather, or Goodfellas, but nor is it entertaining enough just to be a film of stylistic bombast. I did not hate it, but I found the film actually overlong as well as often boring. I do find it rather telling though that there is only ever really a single moment people mention when talking about the film.

Al Pacino after finding such great success throughout the 70's had a very different career in terms of film in the 80's. He only made five films during the 80's and only one of those films has a great deal of notoriety. That of course being Scarface which is one of the most iconic film of the 80's and has arguably  either Pacino's second most or most iconic role in Tony Montana. Iconic though does not necessarily mean good, although it becomes abundantly clear why this is such a notable performance from Pacino from his very first scene where Montana is being interrogated by U.S. customs. Pacino's Cuban accent is something to behold all in itself as it seems purposefully extroverted. This goes really for most the cast as the accents seem more of out of a movie of the 40's, which possibly was a purposeful idea by De Palma. To Pacino's credit he goes with accent all the way as it does help to establish Tony, plus he actually keeps it pretty consistent unlike Robert Loggia who has a wave like accent that comes in and out at random.

It's not just the accent though is so flamboyant and distinct but Pacino's whole manner here. His almost constant grimace, and his way of always holding his body tight does make Tony Montana stand out. The film has kind of a weird tale of the rise to power in that it kinda wants to show the corruption of it, but not really since Tony is a criminal the moment he comes on the scene. When the first things Tony does is actually murder a man in the refugee camp in Florida. Pacino's performance in the early scenes is the most extreme perhaps of his career to this point. His work in The Godfather films, and Dog Day Afternoon had moment of emotional intensity but that was the overarching quality of the performance. That is the case here, and the more quiet moments can be counted on one hand. Pacino's technique here wouldn't have worked in those films, but Scarface intends to thrive on the bombast therefore Pacino's technique is in line with that vision.

Pacino's performance does work in creating a mobster who is a far cry from the cold calculating Michael Corleone in fact he actually makes Sonny look like a calm guy at times. Pacino's good at having that violent intensity in the early scenes that portrays Montana as a guy who quite enjoys killing. In the early scene Pacino even though he's never not intense here actually has a warmth of sorts as he hangs out with his friend and right hand man Manny (Steven Bauer), and does convey the simply friendship between the two even if little time is spent on it. Technically that's one of the major problems of the film is the thin way most of Montana's relationships are portrayed. The one with Manny works but that is not the case for all the performance. The one with Loggia's mob boss never comes to life as a mentor, or a much a rivalry.  The relationship with Michelle Pfeiffer's trophy wife also is thin. It goes from Pacino showing an ever so slightly charming side, to instantly passive aggressive towards, then she just kinda disappears.

The limited nature of the relationships aren't Pacino's fault he actually doesn't do a bad job of showing the small emotional shifts in these moments. Pacino's best scenes in this regard are the ones where Tony is with his sister. These are absurdly brief but Pacino manages to naturally bring a little bit of emotional depth in Tony Montana. The main drive of the film is the corruption of Tony Montana which is technically relatively simply played by Pacino. He frankly just shows Tony to just lose his joy in his crimes and take on some general malaise once he gets everything he wants. Again Pacino plays this well but it seems like there should have been possibly a more to this transition than there is. Again the film's nature never allows much of a development in this way. For example after he makes the decisive action to make it to the top the film just instantly jumps to him already being tired with the top, again it just isn't Pacino's fault.

The best moments of Pacino's performance are the broad ones since the film also works best when it embraces the bombastic nature of the story. Pacino thrives in these scenes completely embracing the madness and giving quite the entertaining portrayal of Montana's vicious intensity. Pacino is wise to tone down enough in key moments, such as when he executes a superior, to be a little chilling, but he's actually at his highpoint when he's loud. The strongest moment of the film is the one the film is known for which is "say hello to my little friend". Pacino goes full force and it is something to behold as the film finally just let's him go. Pacino allows it to be quite the rousing conclusion to a film that is not always otherwise. This is a risk taking performance to be sure, and possible a love or hate although I personally don't fall in either category. I don't hate it but Pacino never able to wholly overcome the film's shortcoming. I do find his performance fits the nature of the film well though, and is enjoyable particularly when the film hits the right stride in terms of the style it seems to be going for.


Michael McCarthy said...

Ahhhh I actually kinda thought he'd be lower. I ranked him as high as I did because I personally found this film and performance to be very entertaining, I figured you probably wouldn't though haha.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I figured you'd be in the 3.5 to 4 range with this performance. I knew you'd review him no matter what, because you said that you wanted to review interesting performances, and this certainly is that.

Anonymous said...

Ratings/thoughts on Pfeiffer and Mastrantonio

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

First Big Eyes trailer!!

By the way, RatedRStar: (sorry I went to sleep) My favourite HK actors are Lau Ching Wan, Nicolas Tse, Ronald CHeng and Tony Leung Chiu Wai, although I have a LOT more films to see.

RatedRStar said...

Has anybody ever seen Al Pacino in Cruising, that is what I call notorious lol.

as for Big Eyes, Christoph Waltz looks to me like he steals the show as always, you know what, I would rather have Waltz have 3 oscars than Mark Ruffalo having any.

RatedRStar said...

@Donald: There are so many good HK films, thrillers are what they succeed at.

RatedRStar said...

TERENCE STAMP is in it lol its great to see him again =D.

Anonymous said...

I rather liked the movie even though it's true that it isn't even close to The Godfather or Goodfellas. Pacino was great for me, not really amazing, but really strong anyway, and probably a 4.5 for me. My favorite scene of his is the one in the car where he refuses to kill his target because he's with with his wife and children, I thought that he was absolutely perfect there.

Anonymous said...

Also, I thought that Pfeiffer made the most out of her thin role as I think that she's quite effective in showing Elvira's slow decay and her final scene is brilliant. Mastrantonio was over-the-top sometimes but quite good anyway and far better here than in her nominated perf.

JackiBoyz said...

Has anyone seen Pride, it looks like a wonderful film =D.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

@RatedRStar: TERRENCE STAMP, love him, such an underrated actor too. I think he could be the Bill Murray of the film (i.e. the Burton supporting actor in a quirky role, steals the show). I have also recently seen CJ7, which I surprisingly loved.

@JackiBoyz: I haven't but it looks good, Nighy and Staunton are always at the very least solid so I'll definitely go see it.

RatedRStar said...

@Donald: I wasnt really a fan of CJ7, I think it has some nice moments but I think its a little too heavy handed, I frankly could have done with more Stephen Chow who despite having top billing is barely in it, easy to see why he was placed in the supporting category at that years HK awards.

Anonymous said...

Louis, do you think that the following performances are leading or supporting and why exactly:
Sharon Stone - Casino
Mary Tyler Moore - Ordinary People
Shirley MacLaine - Some Came Running
Meryl Streep - Ironweed
Mira Sorvino - Mighty Aphrodite
Kate Winslet - The Reader
I think they're all kind of borderline... What do you think?

RatedRStar said...

@Jackiboyz: Pride looks amazing =D I hope Louis will get a chance to see it eventually lol.

Louis Morgan said...

Pfeiffer - 3.5(I'm technically giving her the benefit of the doubt her simply because she obviously went on to be a good actress. The thing is this could be a bad performance as most things about it has a certain artifice to it. I'm guessing that was intentional though to show the shallow nature of her character, if that's the case a job well done)

Mastrantonio - 3(She's is indeed pretty over the top, but I actually did think what she did worked for the style of the film)

Sharon Stone - Casino - Lead(I think the film's essentially about her character's uncontrollable nature, in a way, causing such havoc in De Niro's very controlled Ace's life)

Mary Tyler Moore - Ordinary People - Lead(She probably has less screen time than Hutton and Sutherland. Some scenes are from her perspective though, and it really is about the reactions of all the family members to the eldest son's death)

Shirley MacLaine - Some Came Running - Supporting(The film's about Frank Sinatra's character. MacLaine's character plays an important role but her story is only one of the subplots surrounding Sinatra's character)

Meryl Streep - Ironweed - Leadish(I would put her lead because again scenes are from her perspective. I would not be completely against calling her supporting though as Nicholson is certainly the favored lead, and there are times where the film almost seems to forget about her)

Mira Sorvino - Mighty Aphrodite - Supporting(She has like a scene that would suggest lead, but the majority of her performance is in support of Allen's character)

Kate Winslet - The Reader - Lead(The film never stops being about her character even when she is off screen. She might not have the most generous screen time, but the film still is as much her story as it is Kross/Fiennes's)

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

What did you think of Kross in The Reader? For some reason, he's always been the standout for me.

mcofra7 said...

Rating and thoughts for F. Murray Abraham

Anonymous said...

Louis , Please , I am begging that you review Mickey Rourke in Rumble Fish for supporting 1983.

Louis Morgan said...


I haven't watched it since 08, but I do recall him being good in the role. I certainly preferred him over Fiennes who has a thankless role which involved an inordinate amount of staring into space.


Abraham - 3(Speaking of thankless roles. I really wished that he had played Loggia role or that of the South American dealer. I thought he brought the right smarmy smugness in the few scenes he was in. In fact I was very disappointed to see his character offed so quickly)


Your begging has been noted.