Scent of a Woman (1992)

Posted: February 10, 2014 in Movie Review
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Scent of a Woman (1992)

Director: Martin Brest

Starring: Al Pacino, Chris O’Donnell, James Rebhorn, Gabrielle Anwar, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Some people are born with a disability and learn to live with it. Others are rendered so helpless that they will require assistance in order to perform the most rudimentary of tasks for the duration of their lives. Some are born perfectly normal and, up to a point, lead an ordinary existence like those around them, until one day when something happens and their whole world is turned upside down. They can still (mostly) handle their own affairs, but they spend each day feeling sorry for themselves, never letting anyone hear the end of it. The resilient who can find the courage to carry on with a positive outlook and actually make something out of their lives have my respect and admiration.

Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino) is a decorated war hero. He was once considered for promotion to the rank of General, but was passed over due to his reckless behavior. It is this personality defect which has led to Frank’s current predicament. He is now retired, having been blinded during a juggling act involving grenades. He was very drunk that particular day, and started pulling the pins out of the grenades. One got away from him. Being in the dark as he is now is a life with which Frank simply cannot cope. He’ll drown his sorrows with glass after glass of Jack Daniels, and lust away after women he knows he won’t be sleeping with, but the life he’s known is gone and he doesn’t know how to build a new one. His salvation lies in the form of a seventeen year-old prep school student named Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell), whose own life has hit a bit of a snag. Charlie was witness to a prank pulled by fellow students, which involved making a mess of the Headmaster (James Rebhorn)’s prized new Jaguar in the school’s parking lot. Unlike the troublemakers, Charlie got into school on scholarship rather than on Daddy’s money, and that scholarship will be in jeopardy if he chooses not to be a snitch.

Al Pacino will go down as one of Hollywood’s greatest actors, but up until 1993, he didn’t have an Oscar to show for it. After being nominated for “The Godfather,” “The Godfather Part II,” “Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “…And Justice for All,” “Dick Tracy” and “Glengarry Glen Ross,” Pacino finally got the recognition he had always deserved with his Academy Award for Best Actor  for “Scent of a Woman.” Playing a blind man who can still peer into the souls of men, dance a pretty mean Tango (in a delightful scene he shares with the lovely Gabrielle Anwar), sweet talk the ladies and describe everything about them from the smell of their perfume, Pacino gives us one of his more sympathetic and endearing characters. Convincingly playing a person who has lost their sight is no easy task, but Pacino achieves this more with Frank’s depression than he does in not making eye contact with his co-stars.

In the course of preparing for this review, I found to my surprise that “Scent of a Woman” is actually a remake. The previous version, a 1974 Italian film entitled “Profumo di donna” (or “Scent of a Woman”), stars Vittorio Gassman in the role of blind Italian captain Fausto Consolo.

Of course, it is now impossible for me to speak of “Scent of a Woman” without mentioning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. As George Willis, Jr., the leader of the group of spoiled rich kids who enjoy causing trouble, Hoffman’s part in this movie is not lengthy, but is no less crucial. He’s the one whom Charlie speaks to on the phone while in New York with Frank to get an update on the situation, hoping in his own naivety that George will find a way to get them off the hook. “Scent of a Woman” marked Hoffman’s first big break in Hollywood, and thankfully it would not be his last. He eventually became a highly respected stage and film actor/director, decorated with four Academy Award nominations, one which he won for “Capote.” Sadly, Hoffman’s career was cut short when the actor died of a heroin overdose on February 2, 2014. It feels pointless to play the “What if?” game, so I will simply say of Hoffman that I never saw a bad performance out of the man. He seemed to enjoy every role that he took on. Rather than allow his death to make the world somehow less bright, the body of work he leaves behind should be celebrated all the more.

Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Beautifully written and insightful commentary. Your reviews never cease to amaze me.

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