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USA 1992
Directed by
Martin Brest
156 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Scent Of A Woman

They say that for an actor an Oscar is somewhat of a poisoned chalice. Whether or not this is the explanation, after winning his only Oscar in Martin Brest’s film, Al Pacino settled into the abrasive acting style that he used for his character here and has varied little from it since.

Lt. Colonel Frank Slade (Pacino) is a retired army officer, blinded in a alcohol-induced accident and embittered by his failed career and wasted life, living in bungalow at the back of his daughter’s house. She hires a Boston prep school student Charlie Simms (Chris O'Donnell) to look after him over the Thanksgiving weekend but Slade decamps to New York City for one last fling, Charlie taking with him.

The script is not only terribly conventional in an American way (Slade’s idea of a last fling is, to paraphrase, a feed, fuck and a drive in a Ferrari) but writer Bo Goldman manages to hybridize the sentimentality of the main story with a Dead Poet’s Society-ish sub-plot about under-privileged but principled Charlie (who might have well come out of Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory) standing up to the powers-that-be at his ivy-league school.

The film could been awful but thanks to Pacino’s commanding performance and Brest’s efficiently accommodating direction it works (even the rah-rah ending which had been so cloying in Dead Poet’s Society).

FYI: Whilst Pacino developed a near caricatural acting style (much loved by impersonators) based on his performance here, Brest went on to direct the much-maligned Meet Joe Black in 1998 and Gigli in 2000). Chris O'Donnell gradually faded into television work but the film was the first significant screen role for Phillip Seymour Hoffman as one of Charlie's college mates.




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