Scarface (1983) has grown into a massive cult favorite over the years, but rarely is it praised for its treatment of female characters. But Oliver Stone’s script does include two juicy roles for women, each of which leaves a lasting impression: Michelle Pfeiffer as Tony Montana’s lady Elvira Hancock and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Tony’s baby sister Gina. The rest of the women in the film are just small roles, like Tony and Gina’s mom or the blonde eye candy Manny beds. Pfeiffer’s performance was most certainly Oscar-worthy in my estimation, but Mastrantonio nearly equaled her excellence.
The women are polar opposites in many ways. Elvira is blonde, blue-eyed, with an icy glare and a deeply cynical outlook that leads to some memorably sarcastic one-liners for Pfeiffer. Gina is a little younger, eager and innocent when we first meet her, with enormous, expressive chocolate eyes and the vibrant, corkscrew mane of a goddess. Yet, for all their differences they share one thing in common: Tony’s desire for them.
Tony is infatuated with Elvira at first sight and only becomes more obsessed with winning her heart when she repeatedly shoots down his advances. It’s the thrill of the chase for Tony. Once the pair are married, and Elvira grows tired of Tony’s many flaws, he treats hers with hostile disdain. The honeymoon is over, quickly. When it comes to his kid sister Gina, though, the feelings are far more complex. Folklore and mythology are rife with incestuous brother-sister relationships, and Brian De Palma’s Scarface is nothing if not a modern (for 1983) myth, fraught with drama and tragedy. We quickly realize that Tony’s brotherly love is actually sinister. He seemingly wants to possess Gina, to own her. He loses his temper when he sees Gina making out with a man in a club, then warns his associate and best friend Manny (Steven Bauer) never to go near her. Well, spoiler for a 37 year old film, but Manny and Gina have a secret tryst, falling madly in love. When Tony discovers their secret, he acts out in the only way he knows how, with violence, killing Manny as Gina watches.
Mastrantonio is utterly fantastic throughout, charting Gina’s growth as she blossoms into a beautiful, fierce young woman. Devastated by Tony’s murderous act, something snaps in Gina, and what follows is a truly stunning scene, with an incredibly brave performance by Mastrantonio. Tony’s empire is caving in around him. While his face is buried in a mountain of coke piled high on his desk, dozens of stealth assassins are descending on his mansion to exact payback for Tony’s business indiscretions with a Bolivian drug lord. This is when Gina enters, naked except for underwear and an open silk robe. She’s smiling, waving a gun, looking seductive and deadly. She’s there to confront Tony’s carnal desire head on, with a vengeance. Her tone is sinister, as if she’s relishing making her big brother squirm. “ls this what you want, Tony? You can’t stand for another man to be touching me. So you want me, Tony, huh? Huh?” She laughs “Fuck me, Tony” while shooting and wounding him. Gina’s a broken woman here, just one more casualty to Tony’s cruelty. He destroys everything he touches. Seconds later, an assassin bursts in through the window and riddles Gina with machine gun fire before tony dispatches him.
Gina’s end is heartbreaking. It astonished me the first time I saw the film. Thanks to a beautiful performance by Mastrantonio, Gina feels like a character brimming with life, so to see it cut down so brutally is devastating. If only her terrible big brother hadn’t reentered her life. She might’ve struggled financially as a hairdresser, sure, but she also might’ve lived a longer, healthier, and happier life, free of her brother’s incestuous, domineering love.
There’s a lot of death in Scarface, but Gina’s is the one that truly stings. In a film noted for its raging testosterone, Mastrantonio commands the screen, counterbalancing all of that male ego with an earthy performance, infused with Divine Feminine energy. She burns brightly any time she’s on camera. Michelle Pfeiffer’s masterful performance is deservedly celebrated by many (and none more so than me), but Mastrantonio’s contributions shouldn’t be overlooked. Both played women who eventually stood up to Tony Montana. Pfeiffer’s Elvira did it just in time to save her life. Unfortunately, Mastrantonio’s Gina wasn’t so fortunate.