Scent Of A Woman (Martin Brest, 1992)

08Mar10

Rarely are my intuitions so conflicting. Let me try and explain why.

Al Pacino’s performance as Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade is special, to say the least. Just as a mental defect in Raymond brought the best out of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, it seems this opportunity that presented itself to Pacino, the chance to play a grouchy, alcoholic blindman, provided him with a platform on which he could really exhibit his talents.

Slade first comes across, to put it frank, as a complete bastard. He snarls at Charlie, the special scholarship student at the local private school, who graciously takes the job of looking after him for Thanksgiving weekend. ‘Looking after him’ ends up consisting of much more than housesitting, however. Once Frank’s family have left, he’s dialing for a cab to take them to the airport. He soon reveals to Charlie his plans for the weekend: to fly them both first class to New York City, stay in a five star hotel, make love to a beautiful woman, eat good food, drink nice wine and experience all the pleasures in life, before returning to the Waldorf Astoria and blowing his brains out.

The stage is thus set for a classic coming of age, man-teaches-boy story, with a dash of adventure given the context as well. And this aspect of the film is more than enjoyable. One cannot help but just smile as Pacino delivers his lines and exposes Frank’s sharp whit. The guy even refers to Jack Daniels as John, because he’s known him so long… But the best scene comes in the form of a dance; Frank teaches a young lady the tango, and the delight in his eyes is evident for all to see.

Something lingers over this plot, however, and in my opinion largely tarnishes it. Before leaving for the weekend, Charlie had been witness to the setting up of a prank on the school’s headmaster. He was offered a guarantee of a place at Harvard if he ‘snitched,’ admitting who did it. Charlie refuses, and a disciplinary meeting is called for the following week to get to the bottom of the issue and threaten Charlie with expulsion. Now, the reasons for this whole scenario are clear: it provides a huge climax for the film, and a final stage for Pacino to exhibit his talents on; for Frank turns up to defend Charlie, and he does so with real passion. After hearing his story over the past two hours, it takes a lot not to be moved by the Colonel.

And thus despite an awfully corny ending, in which the crowd of students present inevitably erupts in applause when Frank’s speech ensures the right decision is made, one nevertheless feels compelled to push this aspect of the film to one side. Pacino is magical in Scent of a Woman, and that is sufficient to ensure the film’s quality.

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