Wednesday, November 30, 2016


(December 1992, U.S.)

Man, I just love it when one Al Pacino film follows another! I love SCENT OF A WOMAN, and yet even as I write this post, I am somewhat disappointed to learn that this is an American remake of a 1974 Italian film of the same name called PROFUMO DI DONNA. It seems that nearly every time I think a major Hollywood studio has actually put something out there of original quality, it turns out that someone else did it first (why does this always happen to me??).

Oh, well. I'll try to put aside my disillusioned feelings and concentrate on Al Pacino, my favorite actor of all time, and the unique qualities he brings to his Academy award-winning performance in this film. As Colonel Frank Slade, it safe to say that he's more than just a little rough around the edges. Fact is, he's a blind and bitter raving alcoholic who could make a hater our of Gandhi, and as circumstance would have it, he needs someone to look after him during the Thanksgiving weekend while the rest of his family is traveling. Charlie Simms (played by Chris O'Donnel), a student at the New England Baird prep school who lacks self-confidence, is that very someone who will have to put up with Frank in order to earn enough money to fly home to Oregon for Christmas. But even before any of that has started, there's a situation at school in which Charlie and another student George Willis Jr. (played by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) witness three other boys setting up a nasty prank above the brand new Jaguar of the headmaster, Mr. Trask (played by the late James Rebhorn). Following the prank that resulted in paint all over his new car, Mr. Trask presses both witness to divulge the names of the pranksters. Both boys, for the time being, manage to talk their way out of it, but Mr. Trask is not willing to let the matter go, suggesting that an emergency meeting of the disciplinary board be called first thing after the holiday weekend.

Still silent, Charlie is conflicted about what to do. What better way to decide than to spend an unpleasant holiday weekend with Frank Slade (not!)! Before Charlie can understand what's happening to him, he's been whisked away to New York City with Frank on what will be an adventurous weekend for Frank who also has a plan for himself, which includes staying at the famous Waldorf-Astoria hotel, eating dinner at the Oak Room, seeing his older brother, making love to a beautiful woman and then blowing his brains out. Is is, perhaps, only Charlie that questions whether or not Frank is serious about his intended suicide, but I think we as the viewers no better. Frank is a lost man in the dark who sees no hope of any future for himself. At the home of his brother on Thanksgiving day, Frank proves once and for all why every family has at least one asshole in it. Though, in all honesty, when you see just how prim, proper, reserved and nervous the rest of the family is, you almost can't blame Frank for having the irresistible desire to shoot off his mouth just for shock value alone. Of course, it's during the dinner scene that we learn just how Frank came to be blind when one of his relatives finally speaks up in defense of the entire family.

Having finally completed all of the items on his so-called "bucket list" (including an unexpected and spectacular tango with a beautiful girl in a restaurant), Frank is despondent by the middle of the weekend. Trying to raise his spirits, Charlie convinces him to take a test drive in a Ferrari Mondial T. Despite being blind, Frank handles the car quite well and gets a joyous rush from the whole experience. But at the crucial moment when Frank wants to end his life, Charlie finally decides to grow a pair and stop the man before he can do it. I'm honestly never sure if it's just Charlie's humanity taking over in stopping another person from taking his life, or if he has come to have some genuine feelings for Frank (perhaps it's both). Nonetheless, there's a bond of understanding that has formed between the two of them over the weekend, and it surely manifests itself when Frank unexpectedly comes to Charlie's aid during the disciplinary board meeting that Monday morning, in which Frank, during one of his traditional rants, convinces the board to pardon Charlie for having the integrity to not sell out his soul against others just to save his own ass and his future. There's a lesson learned there somewhere; what it is, I'm not entirely sure. Is it let the asshole pranksters who look down on you because you don't come from wealth win, perhaps?

SCENT OF A WOMAN was the film that finally won Al Pacino his Best Actor Oscar for 1992. And while it's great to have finally seen that happen, I still can't help but feel that it was the wrong film to bestow that honor upon him. How he didn't win it for THE GODFATHER-PART II, I'll never understand! Still, it's a pleasure to watch Pacino in a role that truly brings out the hard edge in his acting talents, particularly if you get to hear him scream and shout, because nobody does that, in my opinion, as well as he does (and really, can you picture anyone else in Hollywood repeatedly saying, "Hoo-ah!" the way he does?). But even as we watch his dark side, we know the lighter side exists somewhere and it perhaps displays itself best when Frank his describing his passion for women. Not just their physical beauty, but the seemingly high pedestal he puts them on in terms of respect and worship. In the end, it's because of a woman, a political science teacher at Charlie's school, that we can all finally see a glimpse of hope for the future of Frank Slade.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Frank Slade: "It's three o'clock and the goddamn Flintstones haven't left yet!"

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