We are men, men who enjoy movies. Within the diverse canon of films that comprise our favorites, male characters exist whom we count among our heroes. These are men who often represent the archetypes of manhood, for better or worse. These are the Reel Men and we will be studying these characters in order to determine what lesson of mandom can be gleaned from them.
The Film: Scarface
Who’s The Man: Tony Montana
Tony Montana is a Cuban convict expelled from his native land by Fidel Castro in a concerted effort to send a tidal wave of criminality flooding into the United States. Tony proves to be exactly the destructive force Castro was hoping to inflict about his American enemies. Tony quickly becomes involved in the lucrative cocaine trade in Miami. As he swiftly climbs the ladder of nefarious success, Montana leaves a trail of bodies in his wake that rivals most plagues or natural disasters.
What Makes Him A Reel Man?
Tony Montana is a vicious, exaggerated champion of the American Dream. Tony arrives in this country with nothing and is relegated to a makeshift internment camp. Even once he obtains his green card, he is stuck in a horrible job washing dishes in a café and his life is seemingly going nowhere. But Tony never once loses sight of his dream to make something of himself, and routinely makes mention of America being the ideal place to do so. He watches the wealthy patrons of the fancy restaurant across the street and deconstructs the roots of their success. He never for a second doubts that one day he will enjoy that same success because, like Bonasera at the opening of The Godfather, he believes in America. He passionately adheres to the idea that America is the land of opportunity and he exploits every one of those opportunities; soon rising to occupy one of the top echelons in a thriving multinational corporation.
Granted, that corporation is also a drug empire so celebrating his rise may put us in jeopardy of having our D.A.R.E membership revoked. But the film does a pretty decent job of expounding upon the dangers of his chosen profession; namely in the form of a bullet-ridden finale that amounts to cinema’s bloodiest comeuppance. But Tony’s ambition and his prowess as a businessman give us plenty to admire as we sift through the rubble of his bad decisions. Tony is never satisfied with the various levels of promotion he earns. Much like any number of the biggest companies in the country, Tony’s ambition has him perpetually focused on expansion. He will not be satisfied until he feels he’s obtained, “the world…and everything in it.”
Tony is the consummate underdog. His humble beginnings as a penniless refugee sound like the first chapter of countless self made man stories. Even as he’s making his way through the ranks, most of the bigger players in the game fail to take him seriously; something that would prove a fatal mistake. The reason we love Tony Montana, the reason that character has garnered a cult following that has stood the test of time and supersedes his arch criminal behavior, is that we love to see an underdog triumph over adversity whether that adversity is poverty or assassination attempts. While his ambition eventually leads to his downfall, his journey to the top is exhilarating. We love seeing him hit the heights and indulge his every fiscal whim. His flashy extravagance epitomizes the excess of the 80s.
The Man Behind the Man: Al Pacino
Al Pacino is such an institution in American film that not only does he require no introduction, but it becomes an intimidating task to try and encapsulate his brilliance. His performance in Scarface would become one of his most indelible roles and created the model of the antihero for years to come. His Tony Montana was like the id quietly raging inside his outwardly stoic Michael Corleone that was allowed to burst forth, don a colorful Hawaiian shirt, and snort enough cocaine to kill a bull elephant. Many people questioned the decision to cast an Italian-American actor as a Cuban immigrant, but Pacino immerses himself so completely into the character, going so far as to alter his physicality, that the illusion is near flawless.
The Man’s World:
Scarface had the rare advantage of being written by Oliver Stone and directed by Brian De Palma; a powerful collaboration. These are two of the greatest living directors in the business and they are coming together to tell a beautifully constructed exploitation film about a gangster? I can’t help but wonder what god I pleased. Scarface was based on the 1932 Howard Hawks film of the same name. The Hawks film was actually based on a novel by Armitage Trail which itself was a thinly veiled biopic of Al Capone. So Brian De Palma’s Scarface is sort of Six Degrees of Al Capone story. If ever there were a violent proponent of the American dream, it was our country’s most notorious gangster. Montana manipulates the drug trade in almost the exact same fashion that Capone utilized bootleg liquor to rise to underworld prominence during Prohibition.
One Final Toast
One of the greatest scenes in man-nuls of cinema is Scarface’s explosive climax. Tony Montana, high as a kite and totally convinced of his own invincibility, takes on legion after legion of gun-toting killers. This is the point of the film when he elevates beyond mere human status and becomes a devastating force of nature. If the allure of easy money and power of the 80s cocaine trade is Dr. Frankenstein, Tony Montana is its most regrettable monster. If you haven’t revisited the film in a while, it may be time to once again say hello to Tony and his little friend.