Saturday, August 29, 2009

1992 - Scent of a Woman

As New York provided us with the first day in weeks that hasn't left me dripping with sweat, Kat and I spent a lazy afternoon watching the third of 1992's Best Picture nominees. And, I have to say, 1992 has turned out to be a cracker of a year for film, and as Mike indicated in a comment on yesterday's post, the final five are only a small sampling of the fare available in any given year. (The Player is a favourite of mine, too.) Perhaps one day, I'll manage to start this whole project over again and watch every film ever made in each year to make the project more complete ... or perhaps not. Still, I know I'm missing out on several fantastic films, but I better not start lamenting that now, or I'll never get through this...

Scent of a Woman
Martin Brest
Bo Goldman
Al Pacino, Chris O'Donnell, James Rebhorn, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Gabrielle Anwar
Academy Awards:
4 nominations
1 win, for Best Actor

Lt. Colonel Frank Slade has had quite a life. A retired Army officer, he spent time on President Johnson's staff, before forcing his own early retirement, a feat achieved by unsuccessfully juggling hand grenades while intoxicated. Not only was it the end of his military career, but also the beginning of a sightless existence. The Colonel was probably cantankerous before he became blind, but now he is downright irascible.

Charlie Simms, on the other hand, is a mild-mannered prep school boy, receiving a private education despite his unwealthy roots. In order to pay for the airfare home to Oregon for Christmas, he agrees to a sort of babysitting job, taking care of the stubborn Colonel over the Thanksgiving weekend. But Col. Slade has other plans. He's bought tickets to New York City, where he intends to enjoy one last hurrah before blowing his brains out. And he's bringing Charlie along for the ride... as the tagline for the film reveals.

They fly first class, lodge at the Waldorf Astoria, dine at the Oak Room, test drive a Ferrari. The Colonel dances the tango with a beautiful woman and spends a few sordid moments with another. All the while, he manages to convince Charlie from skedaddling. For Charlie has problems of his own. He and another student are the only witnesses who can identify the masterminds behind an embarrassing prank on the headmaster. And if Charlie doesn't spill the beans, he'll be expelled, thereby kissing Harvard goodbye.

Scent of a Woman is most definitely an Al Pacino vehicle. Despite the film containing a great deal more that's worthy of consideration, it is Al, in all his Method acting glory, that makes this so watchable. He takes on the mannerisms of a blind person with great precision and authenticity, and he won a long-awaited Oscar for it. Right from the scene where Frank Slade is introduced, we are enthralled by his characterisation, and through the course of the film, sense his pain and desparation, juxtaposed against his passion. And really, what chance does Chris O'Donnell have alongside such a master? I've never been a huge fan of his, but, in his defense, even if he were the greatest actor of his generation, he wouldn't be able to steal a scene from Al.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his breakthrough performance as the slimy rich kid who all but leaves Charlie out to dry, displays why he has become such a respected actor. Fortunately for him, most of his scenes were sans Al. Also, one of my favourite "who's that guy?" actors, James Rebhorn, appears as the scheming headmaster.

I made mention yesterday of A Few Good Men's cheesy score, postulating that it was a sign of the times. However, Thomas Newman's score of Scent of a Woman proves that the times had nothing to do with it. Newman, in his distinctive manner, manages to capture the mood precisely.

Scent of a Woman is a great ride. A fabulous character study. Perhaps the unfortunate consequence is that the prep school subplot that bookends the picture, although fascinating in its own right, doesn't quite match the emotional potency of Slade's journey. And maybe that's Pacino's fault for being so darn captivating. Once his story is resolved, there's still another 20 minutes left. But at least, he is involved in the resolution of the subplot, and I guess, you could rightly argue, that his character's journey isn't really complete until he takes part in resolving Charlie's issues. Well, I've pretty much given it all away now, so I hope you've seen it already.

At any rate, the final conclusion is just a little too pat and contrived for my liking. I feel a little unfair in saying this, but I almost wish the film had ended 20 minutes earlier.

1 comment:

  1. Great write-up Matt. I think you were spot on describing the film's strengths and weaknesses. This is Al Pacino's film and I was happy to see him win his long overdue Oscar. I think it was the start of his blustery, scenery chewing performances, which seems to be his trademark now. Hoo-Ah!

    I like the links you sprinkle in your commentary. I just visited The Oak Room and had an imaginary dinner with my wife. I then took the money I saved and bought groceries for the week.:)