Love is Blind for Pacino
I've watched "Scent of a Woman" a handful of times and each time it has come across as being something slightly different and until now I never realised that in fact it is a remake of 70s Italian movie "Profumo di donna". But the thing which comes across to me the most is that this is a movie about two lost souls who through a moment of serendipity end up in each others company and helping each other. But this isn't some fluffy serendipity movie full of schmaltz; this is a powerful drama with powerful performances especially from Al Pacino who won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as the cantankerous Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade. And this powerful drama is perfectly created so that alongside the drama there is mystery but also romance and humour all of which along with the performances keep you enthralled for every minute of its 157 minute duration.
Charlie Simms (Chris O'Donnell - Fried Green Tomatoes), a young man from Oregon attends the prestigious Baird School for boys, where unlike his fellow students isn't well off and so works hard not only at his studies but also to earn extra money. It is through his need for money that he spots a job house sitting and caring for housebound relative over the Thanksgiving weekend a job which on paper looks simple. But this is not a simple job by any means as the man he is looking after is cantankerous former Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade (Al Pacino - Glengarry Glen Ross), who after losing his sight has become bitter and twisted, explosive in his put downs and brutal in his bluntness. And to make matters worse Frank has plans and before Charlie can say no he finds himself in New York with Frank who has an agenda of things to do that weekend and needs Charlie's help to do them.
There is something cliche like to the way "Scent of a Woman" introduces us to Charlie Simms, a student at the prestigious Baird school who as someone there on a scholarship and aid finds himself looking at a lot of trouble when his rich friends pull a prank on principal Trask. That set up isn't that original and you immediately get a feeling that part of "Scent of a Woman" is going to be about Charlie having to fight for his survival and in doing so having to chose what the right decision is, remain honourably silent over those who pulled the prank or become a snitch in order to protect his future. But in doing so it sets up his character of this young boy at a turning point in his life where the wrong choice could lead him to being a lost soul.
But this introduction to Charlie is just part of the story because it leads us to Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade who following an accident has lost his sight and become more cantankerous than ever, a real arseole who likes to belittle and bully those who he meets. Slade is are other lost soul who feels that his life has become worthless, locked up in a world of darkness and bitterness. And so the story starts with Charlie taking a job house sitting and looking after Frank for the Thanksgiving weekend only to discover that Frank has organised for them both to go to New York for one last hoo-rah as he plans to do several things before blowing his brains out.
What follows on from this is Charlie and Frank bonding as they share a series of moments together, with Frank learning all about Charlie's problems at Baird whilst Charlie learns why Frank has turned into such a bitter man. And so as we watch Frank and Charlie have a fine meal together, Frank dance the Tango with the attractive Donna and crash his brother's Thanksgiving meal all the time wondering whether Frank will end up blowing his brains out or not. We almost have a countdown to the event because Frank explains the list of things he plans to do that weekend to Charlie and so as each one is completed it is another step closer to the final event. But whilst this is going on and we watch Frank and Charlie bond we also get that feeling that in some ways they are helping each other with Frank giving his rather unique advice to Charlie whilst Charlie tries to get through to Frank that life is still worth living, in awe and a little scared of this man who through his heightened senses and intellect is capable of much more than many seeing people.
What is so good about all of this is that it delivers a blend of drama, romance and humour. The first minute we meet Slade sitting in the corner of his smoky room we are immediately intimidated by him as is Charlie as this is a man who doesn't lack confidence and seems to like to rip into anyone he meets. He is frankly an arseole but an arseole which we grow to love because behind the bitterness is a good guy and a funny guy whose quick reposts are the stuff of legend especially when it comes to his drinking and his best friend John Daniels, yes John not Jack because he's known his so long. But there is also the romance of it all, Frank may border on the vulgar in his explicit lust of women and his blunt descriptive powers but he is also a romantic and it is impossible not to be enchanted when he turns on the charm especially in the tango scene as he dances with Donna.
As such it is fair to say that much of what makes "Scent of a Woman" work comes down to Al Pacino who gives an amazing performance one worthy of the Oscar he won. Take the simple thing that he is playing a blind man, not only does he get the mannerisms right, from the feeling for things but the way his eyes don't focus on anything is spectacular. Yet even without him using his eyes the way emotion comes across on his face, the start of a knowing smile lighting up his face through to moments of rage and reflection is so brilliant. And that doesn't even take in the mastery which Pacino shows when it comes to the script, bellowing out "hoo-rah" at any moment he wants to belittle someone. It's because of Pacino's masterful performance that long before the end of the movie we have taken Frank into our hearts even with his ability to be obnoxious.
In a way you have to feel for Chris O'Donnell because how do you compete with not only a great actor but an actor who is so on top of his game. Well O'Donnell does the sensible thing he doesn't compete, he plays Charlie Simms in a restrained and normal manner and it works because whilst we see that they are both lost souls they are both very different. It's partly because of O'Donnell and his restrained, almost timid performance that Pacino's performance seems so much greater and you have to give him credit for it.
What this all boils down to is that "Scent of a Woman" is still after almost 20 years a great movie and a movie which doesn't feel in the least bit dated. It is of course a movie which you remember for Al Pacino's amazing performance but it is also a movie which is more than just a performance and is a well crafted story of two characters who end up helping each other at crossroads in their lives.