In May 1980, a Cuban man named Tony Montana (Al Pacino) claims asylum, in Florida, USA, and is in search of the "American Dream" after departing Cuba in the Mariel boatlift of 1980. When questioned by three tough-talking INS officials, Montana is detained on suspicion of apolitical criminal activities, in a camp called 'Freedomtown' with other Cubans, while the government evaluates their visa petitions. To be released after 30 days of governmental dithering and camp rumors, and be given green cards, Montana, with the help of his best friend and former Cuban Army buddy Manny Ray (Steven Bauer), kills a former aide to Fidel Castro, Emilio Rebenga (Roberto Contreras) during a riot at Freedomtown. The murder of Rebenga was requested by Frank López, a wealthy, politically astute man who deals cars and trades in cocaine, as Rebenga had tortured López's brother to death while still in Cuba. After getting their Green Cards, Tony Montana and Manny Ray are working as dishwashers in a corner sandwich/taco shop when a López henchman, Omar Suárez (F. Murray Abraham), offers Tony and Manny a job unloading marijuana.

Tony insults Suárez by turning down the job over the little money they will receive, so Suárez sets him up to pick up two kilograms of cocaine from a Colombian dealer, Hector. Tony, Manny, and two other Marielitos in his crew, Angel Fernández (Pepe Serna), and Chi Chi (Ángel Salazar) then set out to meet "Hector the Toad" (Al Israel) at a seedy motel on the boulevard in Miami Beach. While Manny and Chi Chi wait in the car on the street, Tony and Angel go up to the hotel room to meet with Hector. The meeting does not go smoothly, as Tony grows irritated with Hector, who is slow to give him the cocaine in exchange for money. Suddenly, Montana and Angel are double-crossed in a rip off move by the Colombian. To convince Tony to give over the cash, Angel is dismembered in a shower stall with a chainsaw by Hector. After Angel is dead, Tony, about to suffer the same fate, is saved by Chi Chi and Manny who arrive in the nick of time to gun down Hector's henchmen in the hotel's room, while Manny receives a minor bullet wound in his shoulder. Hector escapes but Tony vengefully confronts him in the street and shoots him dead in the middle of Ocean Drive, the now famous Miami South Beach boulevard. Tony and his crew then get away with both the cocaine and the money before the police arrive. Tony then impresses the money's owner, López (Robert Loggia), with not only the return of his cash but with a gift of the coke, a prize from the botched rip off. Frank immediately hires Tony's crew into his criminal hierarchy, representative of a Cuban mafia. But during this initial get together Tony also meets Lopez's lady, the blond and beautiful Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer), who will eventually become the source of tension between the two men. Thus, Montana begins his rise through the ranks of the Miami cocaine underworld.

Three months later, Tony Montana attempts to make amends meet to his estranged family. It is implied that Tony's father, a former U.S. Navy sailor, abandoned the family when Tony was little. Since then, his mother and younger sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) have been living in Miami for the past several years. Tony shows up at his mother's and Gina's house one evening, fashionably dressed, and offers them money for financial support. But Tony's mother has only scorn for him since he turned his back on them years ago for the quick and easy life of crime back in Cuba, and wants nothing to do with Tony, and she is too full of pride to accept his money. But Gina, who idolizes her brother, secretly accepts the money and tells him that she wants in on the flashy life that he has going for him. Tony's love for Gina is clearly genuine for she's the only person that he trusts, and is also very protective of her.

Several months later, while on business in Bolivia to help Omar set up a new distribution deal for López, Tony feels that Frank is "soft," and begins to show his defiance to López's authority by negotiating a deal with Alejandro Sosa (Paul Shenar), the ruthless and powerful Bolivian drug lord. Sosa finds out during the trip that Omar was an informant for the police several years ago and has him murdered to show Tony his intolerance for disloyalty. Upon his return to Florida, Tony gets into trouble with Frank over the deal, who accuses him of "stealing" it. Tony then leaves López to strike out on his own. This allows him to seek out Elvira to whom he makes an unexpected marriage proposal. López is none too happy and decides to take out Tony.

But his move to assassinate Tony fails as two hit men, hired by López to kill Tony at the Babylon Club can't finish the job. A vengeful Tony Montana decides to eliminate Frank and take over his operation. That same night he and Manny kill both Frank and the Miami Chief of Narcotics Mel Bernstein, who was on Frank's payroll and had already shaken down Tony for a hefty monthly payment and airline tickets to London. His problems apparently solved, Tony begins a profitable relationship with Sosa, marries Elvira, buys a new mansion, and sets Gina up in business with her own beauty salon. Manny and Gina soon begin a romantic relationship, but they keep it secret from Tony who had firmly stated to Gina that he does not want her dating anybody.

But as Montana's business grows, so does his cocaine addiction and paranoia, and he begins to spiral out of control... the beginning of the end. His wife, who becomes further addicted to cocaine, becomes distant. His banker informs him that he will be charging higher fees for laundering the increasing flow of drug money. After Manny convinces him that he has a way to save money on the laundering of the coke cash, Tony is arrested in a sting operation by Manny's contact, an undercover cop. Tony's lawyer tells him that although he may get him cleared of the corruption and money laundering charges, Tony will probably have to serve prison time for tax evasion.

Sosa, not wanting to lose his main distributor, steps in to intervene by offering Tony a way out of going to prison. He calls Tony back to Bolivia where he introduces him to his cocaine "board of directors" a group that includes Bolivia's military chief, and a mysterious American, known only as being "from Washington". We assume he is a CIA officer because Sosa guarantees that the IRS will not be able to send Tony to jail. In exchange, Montana must assist in the assassination of a journalist attempting to expose Sosa, his partners, and the ongoing corruption in the Bolivian government. Sosa sends one of his right-hand men, Alberto the Shadow (Mark Margolis) with Tony to assist in the killing. Tony, is clearly disturbed by this since it is against his custom over killing what he sees as a civilian, but seeing no other options, reluntantly agrees to help Sosa with the hit.

In the meantime, Tony's marriage with Elvira finally ends when after a bitter altercation at a local restaurant, she finally expresses her contempt for him and the lives he had led her on, and walks out of the restaurant, and out of his life.

Tony, with his henchmen, Chi Chi and Reuben, and Alberto travel to New York City and Alberto places a bomb under the journalist's car in with the intention of detonating it outside the UN building before the journalist addresses the General Assembly and exposes Sosa's cartel. But Tony has second thoughts when the journalist unexpectedly picks up his wife and children. Tony, saying that the team was only supposed to kill the journalist, instead then shoots Alberto to prevent the journalist's family from being killed. When authorities later discover the unexploded bomb underneath his car, they realize that an execution had been planned, and Sosa is the primary suspect; thus sealing his fate with Sosa.

Returning to Miami, Tony discovers that both his sister Gina and right-hand man Manny have disappeared. Tony has long harbored an apparent unnatural obsession for his sister and is overly protective of her for reasons that he may not understand himself. After getting Gina's address from his mother, who doesn't know who lives there, Tony goes to the house. Much to Tony's surprise, Manny unexpectedly opens the door. Tony then sees Gina in a night gown at the top of the stairs. Enraged that another man has obviously slept with his sister, Tony shoots Manny dead. Hysterical, Gina reveals to Tony that they had just been married and were going to surprise him. Tony has Gina taken back to his mansion where all hell is about to break loose.

In revenge for Tony's failure to kill the journalist, who has now exposed Sosa and his partners to the world as drug lords, Sosa sends a swarm of assassins to Tony's mansion to kill him. Sitting at his desk snorting from an enormous pile of cocaine, Tony realizes and regrets what he has done to his best friend. When Tony is contemplating this, Gina enters his office armed with a pistol to confront him with the truth about his feelings for her. She now realizes that Tony loves her in an unnatural way and demands, at gun point, that he make love to her. She begins to shoot at him while demanding he take her. A Sosa assassin hiding on the balcony, thinking Gina is shooting at him, leaps in and riddles her with bullets. Tony, enraged, throws the man off the balcony and kills him. At this point, Sosa's army of Colombian, Bolivian, and Latin American assassins swarm into his mansion from all directions.

As all his men are being killed, Tony, still delirious from the cocaine, leans over Gina's dead body begging for forgiveness, at the same time the hit men break into the mansion, Chi Chi opens fire with an Uzi as he falls back and ends up banging on the door to Tony's office (it has been locked from the inside by Gina who was planning to kill Tony). Unfortunately, Tony does not seem to hear him. Chi Chi is shot in the back and Tony sees it on the security cameras.

As the hit men prepare to storm his office, Tony finally snaps out of his drug-induced stance, arms himself with an M16 rapid-firing assault rifle with an under mounted M203 grenade launcher and blows down the door. A huge climatic gun battle begins as Tony takes position atop the grand staircase and guns down dozens of Sosa's men who try to storm the balcony. Tony is hit a number of times by return fire, but he keeps shooting. With most of Sosa's men dead, Tony, strung-out on drugs, defiantly yells out at the assassins, not realizing that The Skull, Sosa's chief assassin and leader of the assassination battalion, had sneaked into the room behind him. The Skull shoots Tony in the back with a 12-Gauge shotgun. Tony falls off the balcony and into a reflecting pool at the base of the grand staircase. As the Skull and the few surviving assassins look on, Tony Montana lies dead... face down in the reflecting pool which is located below a large brass globe that says: THE WORLD IS YOURS.

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