I believe that Scarface is the world’s most popular guilty pleasure movie. I think most astute moviegoers realize that it is an objectively bad film, but it is so emblematic of its place and time (Miami in the 80s!) that we’re willing to look past its faults and appreciate it for what it is: a ragtag, over-the-top, gangster rags to riches story set to the tune of forgettable, barely top 100 dance hits.
It’s like Al Pacino is astutely aware at the lack of quality of the film and doesn’t strive to give a strong performance but rather his best bad performance. This makes his take on Tony Montana all the more remarkable, as Pacino is not acting as how he thinks a Cuban exile turned drug lord would actually act, but instead how a bad actor would portray said exile. Again, Pacino isn’t doing a bad job, as that would require him not succeeding at his performance. Instead, he’s specifically trying to be melodramatic and hackneyed, and the fact that he succeeds makes his Tony Montana all the more intriguing.
But the movie’s look and feel is made possible by a director who happens to be my favorite auteur du jour, Brian DePalma. This movie reeks of DePalma, as every scene and character interaction is heightened and extrapolated to its most dramatic extreme. He coats his Miami in sun-clad babes and his gangsters in off-color suits with collars far too big. And I didn’t know this until this viewing, but the screenplay was written by Oliver Stone, which makes total sense, as the movie is heavy on political themes, particularly drug culture and the U.S. co-dependent relationship with nations like Cuba and Colombia.
The main satisfaction from this film comes from 1. its chainsaw scene or its final shootout scene, 2. laughing at the hollow dialogue and plot events or 3. becoming engrossed in the rags-to-riches story of Tony Montana. You can do and appreciate all three of these things at once, because Scarface has reached the cult-like status where it is still so bad but oh so good.