One of the most powerful moments in Scarface is the culmination of a violent, perfectly judged sequence of events crafted for maximum impact by screenwriter Oliver Stone and staged with ferocious efficiency by director Brian De Palma. It takes place at the end of a night when Al Pacino’s Cuban gangster, a feisty little hard-on named Tony Montana, has survived an attempt on his life that left him with a bullet in his shoulder. He has overseen the execution of his boss, who was behind the hit. He has shot dead a corrupt cop who was extorting his cash and favours. And he has just been upstairs to collect from between satin sheets his boss’s woman, a sleek blonde dressed in white who is his prize. The camera zooms out from a medium close-up on Pacino’s face as, still bleeding, arm in a sling, exhaustion writ large across his face, Tony Montana peers through 20-foot-tall glass windows, staring dumbly into a Giorgio Moroder sunrise as an advertising blimp floats over the water, its pithy slogan an empty promise of greatness yet to come: “The World Is Yours….”
Blow Out begins with a broadly visual joke, nearly four minutes long, about filmmaking. It ends with a second joke on the same subject, this one more complex, pointed, and black as tar. Over the course of the narrative, the material has turned rancid, so discoloured and malodorous that it’s hardly funny. That’s because, between the two grand gestures that bookend the film, writer-director Brian De Palma has traced a hero’s journey from idealism and optimism to disillusionment and despair. If cynicism were a superhero franchise, Blow Out would be its origin story.
Timely art about the Iraq War seems so crucial to a sense of
cultural equilibrium, and Redacted is at some levels such an impressive reboot
of Brian De Palma’s career, that part of me wants to figure out reasons to
shower it with praise. Unfortunately, while Redacted, a verité-style drama
about a group of American soldiers manning a checkpoint in
things, it’s dramatically inert. It’s inspired, De Palma says, by a real event
involving the rape of a 14-year-old girl and the slaughter of her and her
family. Maybe it’s no wonder that, confronting this kind of horror, De Palma
founders, scrambling not just to capture that kind of atrocity in his camera
viewfinder, but to do it in a way that makes any kind of sense.