Here is how I felt on first viewing:
Before Daniel-Day Lewis' oil driller in There Will Be Blood, I don't remember any other character in movie history as ruthless as Al Pacino's in Scarface; Lewis' however is tougher, darker, and even better-developed, rendering Pacino's seem a mere maniac. None of the other performances has any noticeable flaw either and the movie starts like a masterpiece (the first few moments of silence showcases top-class direction, the characters are amazing, etc.) and, though it never lowers to the level of common fare, doesn't quite reach the pinnacle. The end leaves one wishing there could be more to the story, perhaps a bit of color to an otherwise painful movie (there's not a single ray of light, bar the barely-explored romance of the lead's son). Interestingly, the entire work isn't as depressing as the story suggests, but rather more of an adventure, as well as a unique and powerful exploration of mining life, not to mention a graphical depiction of the dangers it entails.
On a revisit, I take back the claim that Lewis' character is actually tougher than Pacino's. The rest of the review is still accurate though.
I would like to add that the cast is among the best I have seen yet in movies. In addition to the magnificent Lewis:
- Paul Dano gives an incredible performance, one that is so good me wonders if he can ever equal it.
- Dillon Frasier gives among the most impressive child performances ever. It is all the more impressive that this was his first performance.
The movie could have done well with a different ending though, for the one it has is a bit over-the-top, even though not pointless. This is not to say it is not well-made of course, for it is in fact among the best-made of all in the movie.