I re-saw the 1983 SCARFACE recently, and it reminded me that I can’t believe one of the movie’s most crucial turning points.
For those tuning in late: Scarface is about Tony Montana, a remorseless criminal who kills his way to the top of a drug empire. He murders an ex-Castroite general, some Colombian drug dealers, his boss, and a police detective, among others. Along the way, he also hits his beloved sister, Gina, and beats up a guy who was having sex with Gina.
So: the turning point. Tony’s in trouble with the law and faces a prison sentence. The only way he can escape is to help murder an anti-drug activist, which he easily agrees to do. But at the moment of the kill, which involves blowing up the activist’s car, Tony stops the murder because the activist’s wife and children are in the car.
In other words, the movie asks us to believe that this tough, vicious killer gives up his freedom and safety because of a woman and kids he’s never met.
Now, the movie occasionally notes that Tony likes kids. He says so early on. He’s disappointed because his wife can’t bear children. When his friend tries hitting on a woman, Tony invites a nearby kid to watch and laugh.
But the idle pleasure that he takes in kids from time to time is trivial compared to his constant, murderous ambition.
So Tony’s act of mercy — I don’t buy it. And it’s important, because his preventing the murder drives the action for the rest of the movie.
It didn’t ruin the entire movie, but it did take scrape some of the shine off of an otherwise strong piece of work.
Oh, plot contrivance, you mischievous thing you.