Tony Montana (Pacino), a Marielito freed from Castro's jails and sent to Florida along with the political prisoners taken in by the Carter administration. After a harrowing introduction to the US coke business he makes his way swiftly up the crime ladder, ruthlessly squashing anyone who dares to stand in his way, even bent cops.
From its first moments, 'Scarface' is Al Pacino's movie. The opening shots of Tony Montana reveal that weíre in the presence of a truly Mephistophelean character, and one of modern cinema's great performances. The gimlet eyes flash with demonic intensity. There's the ingratiating grin, the much-imitated accent ('I am a Yankee - like choo!') and the nervy, jerky movement that suggest a man liable to erupt into violence at any moment.
It's a delicious performance from an actor who knows he's on top form, and Pacino's swaggering arrogance bleeds into the character, juicing it up even further. Pacino would play Satan much later in The Devil's Advocate, but would never come as near to instantiating pure, snickering evil on screen again.
'Scarface' was received with almost universal disdain, as critics dismissed it as heartless satire, over-the-top Grand Guignol or just plain obscene. Needless to say, with De Palma's name on it and reviews like that it soon gained cult credibility, but the depressing adoption of the film as a ghetto classic by hip-hop stars and gangsta rappers shows how badly a film can be misunderstood.
Among the other things that 'Scarface' undoubtedly is - contemporary epic, incest drama, cautionary tale of interior design run amok - it's a black-hearted satire on exactly the kind of garish, acquisitive, bling culture they personify.
From his vile shirt to the zebra-skin Cadillac, to the shots of him face down scarfing a mountain of cocaine like a truffle-hog, Montana, like many of the gold-drenched rappers who have eulogised him, is revealed as a tasteless idiot. If he has any insight at all, it's the creeping one that this endless consumption is unlikely to finally satisfy, rendering happiness an impossibility.
However, to have one's film dismissed by the critics as, among other things, inept satire and then to see it adopted as iconic by the kind of people it condemns is surely some kind of perverse validation. That sound you can hear on the breeze might well be an uncharacteristically cheerful De Palma, cackling.
Perfomances are excellent, and despite its moralistic conclusion, the film has since become de rigueur viewing for crack barons, who know a good shoot-em-up when they see one.