VHS Revival analyses the downfall of Cuba’s most iconic import.
From political refugee to Miami kingpin, for a brief period the world was truly his, but where exactly did it go wrong for the man who wanted it all? The tenacious Montana was straight off the banana boat, but he didn’t let that stop him. All he had in this world was his word and his balls, and he didn’t break them for no one.
It was this kind of straight-shooting attitude that allowed Montana to quickly climb the ranks. From drug mule to fearsome associate, he would conquer the local territories and get in tight with the likes of Alejandro Sosa, a South American drug lord with the power to insulate Tony from the pesky arm of the law, and with his dream girl and best friend in tow, nothing could stop him; except, of course, himself.
In this article, VHS Revival documents Montana’s journey to self-destruction in five simple mistakes.
1. Refusing to Fly Straight
After failing to convince the American authorities of his squeaky-clean past, Montana was soon shipped off to the detention centres with the rest of the Cuban crime wave. That was until he and sidekick Manny Ribera (Steven Bauer) were offered a Green Card in return for assassinating a political snitch who had tortured the brother of Miami kingpin Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia).
After being set up by Frank’s right-hand man, Montana would buy his way into Lopez’s crew with the yeyo he managed to salvage from a drug deal gone awry, but Tony is less than impressed by his boss’ status, and even less by his moral code as Frank warns his power-hungry protege about wanting too much. ‘Those who fly straight, they last,’ he tells him, ‘but those who want it all, they don’t last.’
Fair advice, but Montana was never one to take a backseat. Not only does he ignore Frank’s words of wisdom, he sets about squashing him with designs on taking his place at the top of the narcotics mountain, a decision that would one day prove Frank right.
2. Playing the Surrogate Father
Like all sociopaths, Montana possesses something of a corrupt moral code, displaying the kind of hypocrisy that is never more evident than when his sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) is involved. Gina is a simple soul making an honest living when her big brother comes along with his flash clothes and jail manners. Gina’s mamma has raised her well, and she is aware of her son’s destructive capacities. Eventually, he destroys everything that comes his way.
Of course, Tony is not the kind of guy who takes No for an answer, and it isn’t long before his contradictions begin to hurt his kid sister. He wants her to have money, but he doesn’t like it when she hangs around in flash places. He wants her in his life, but he smacks her around when she begins cavorting with criminals. He wants her to find happiness, but he won’t stand for anybody touching her.
Eventually, Gina is drawn to the only man she feels is immune to her brother’s protective rage, but when it comes to his flesh property, Tony is the kind of proud animal who relents for no man, and soon his kid sister is squirming under his oppressive wing, succumbing to a torrent of machine gun fire less than a year after he strolled back into her life.
3. Getting High on his Own Supply
Early in the movie, Frank Lopez is giving Tony the rundown on the dos and don’ts of successful business, when a mocking Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer) intercedes with, ‘Don’t get high on your own supply.’ Of course, not everyone in Frank’s life follows the rules, and it is Tony’s romance with the coke-addicted Ms. Hancock that sets him on the road to ruin.
As Tony tramples over the competition, he is disciplined and savvy, and like the tigers that continue to fascinate him, he always has his eye on the prize. But as his addiction grows so does his paranoia, and soon he is caught up in a legal wrangle which threatens to land him some serious jail time. The only way out of his tangled web is to become entangled in that of Alejandro Sosa (Paul Shenar), and a world in which morality simply does not apply.
It is here that Montana’s drug abuse truly spirals out of control, resulting in rash decisions, dulled instincts, and the kind of schizoid delusions that no criminal can afford to become consumed by if they are to survive the ruthless and unforgiving streets of Miami. ‘A junkie! I got a junkie for a wife,’ Montana laments. Like most abusers with the wealth to provide for his habit, he doesn’t even realise he has a problem.
4. Fucking with Alejandro Sosa
When international drug king Alejandro Sosa decides to dispose of Lopez associate Omar Suarez (F. Murray Abraham), Montana’s integrity is questioned. But Montana speaks from the heart, and the sagacious Sosa is a fine judge of character when it comes to weeding out the slimeballs. Sosa decides that they can do great business together, and Tony is only too happy to form a partnership as he gets ready to usurp his boss, Frank. The two of them form a pact, but Sosa has a warning for his latest protege, one that even Montana knows to take seriously.
All is good between the two until Sosa lands himself in some political hot soup and asks Tony for a favour. He is to fly to New York with one of his associates and assassinate a public speaker intent on exposing his drug empire. Tony isn’t keen, but in exchange Sosa will help him with his own legal wrangle. By now, Tony is hitting the drugs hard, and when plans change and Tony is expected to blow up a wife and and her children, you know that something has to give.
After refusing to lower his moral standards and subsequently wasting disposal expert Alberto, Tony returns home to a call from a furious Sosa, who explains that the man he was supposed to dispose of gave an important speech that may prove detrimental to he and his partners. ‘I told you a long time ago, you fucking little monkey, not to fuck with me!’ the South American seethes, and as Sosa quickly finds out, there is only so far you can push the Cuban pit bull before he threatens all-out war. The problem is, there can only be one winner, and for perhaps the first time in his life that winner isn’t Tony.
5. Crushing his Bestest Cock-a-roach
Tony’s best friend Manny Ribera was never really cut out to be a gangster. Sure, when the need arose he could kill with the best of them, but he liked the women more than the money and would rather have a line of designer jeans with his name tattooed across chicks’ asses than he would run a drug empire. But the reality is, Tony needs someone like Manny by his side, a guy to act as the sober yin to his raging yang. Whenever Tony flipped in bouts of unforeseen rage, Manny was always there to lend some soothing advice. When Tony was all business, his partner was there to remind him of the fun times, to raise the occasional smile on a face mired in politics. Whenever Tony lost it with his precious sister, Gina, Manny was there to pick her up and drive her home.
Manny is a straight-up womaniser, but forced into spending valuable time with his partner’s kid sister he soon begins to change, seeing in Gina things that he had never before seen. With Gina unable to spend time with anyone else under her brother’s watchful eye, those feelings are soon reciprocated, and before long Tony has succeeded in driving the two of them into each other’s arms.
Any reasonable person would be happy with this arrangement, but when Tony arrives at a mansion on Coconut Grove and sees his sister and Manny wearing his-and-hers robes, that all-too-familiar rage takes hold, and before he knows it he has gunned down his best friend in cold blood. This is the final step for Montana, the point of no return. He may be a ruthless loner who cares only about power, but he always had his best friend to fall back on. Sadly, that is no longer the case, and by the time he returns home to his lonely mansion there is nothing left to do but say hello to another, dare I say little, friend.
Cedric Smarts: Editor-in-Chief and Art Director
Science fiction author, horror enthusiast, scourge of plutocracy, shortlisted for the H. G. Wells Award, creator of vhsrevival.com
Likes: 80s poster art, Vangelis, classical liberalism, dystopian allegories, dissident political activism, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell, George Saunders, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut