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