Film review: Scent of a Woman (1992), directed by Martin Brest
After seeing this film, I expected it to have a few awards attached to it: one Oscar and three Golden Globes, and that’s just for starters. And also, it doesn’t suck.
Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell) is a prep school student in New England, far away from home. He’s there on a grant and scholarship, because unlike most of his classmates, his parents aren’t rich. One night, he and upper class prick George (Philip Seymor Hoffman, and why does he always play such assholes?) witness some of George’s friends prepare a practical joke on the headmaster, Mr Trask (James Rebhorn). When the joke is played out, and it’s discovered that Charlie and George saw the incident but refuse to divulge who the culprits were, they’re given an ultimatum: tell the headmaster who did it, or get expelled. The tribunal will be held on Monday, after Thanksgiving weekend.
As Charlie can’t afford to go back home to Oregon, he needs to take a job to be able to afford plane tickets home for Christmas. He takes a job as caretaker for a blind Lieutenant Colonel called Frank Slade (Al Pacino), who is about as charming as root canal work.
When Slade’s niece’s family goes away for the holiday, Frank doesn’t plan on staying home to feed the cat and listen to country music – no, he’s arranged for the two of them to fly first class to New York City and have the time of their lives, which is a definite shock to the system for poor Charlie. He wants to get back to school, he has work to do, and he had no idea the job looking after some blind guy meant he’d be living the high life in the Big Apple – staying at the Waldorf Astoria, being driven around in a limo, picking up expensive escorts … and teaching beautiful women (Gabrielle Anwar, to be precise) how to dance the tango.
The Colonel feels as if his life is over because of his blindness. Conscientious Charlie is hard at work trying to make him see that’s not the case at all. Every now and then, he phones George for updates about what’s going on. It’s pretty clear he’s a prick who only cares about his own hide.
It’s a film that makes you feel. Anger because the Colonel really gets everyone’s goat, frustration at Charlie’s blindness to how George is playing him … and then, when Pacino has a scene which is likely the one that got him that Oscar, jubilation. What a performance! I wanted to join in the crowd and give a standing ovation.
Heartwarming film, somehow. Also, the school setting reminded me a lot of Dead Poets Society, which is one of my favourite films. The whole standing up for what you believe and when to choose your battles, when to tell on people and when to shut up … Yeah, definitely a few similarities there.
When Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) showed up near the end as well, I was struck by how beautiful she is. Wonderful red hair, and classic features. Very impressive, even though she tends to be very softly spoken to the point of appearing timid.
Even though it’s critically acclaimed, I have to say, this is not a mind-numbingly dull and miserable affair. It’s really good. There are some smiles, some gasps and makes you think about friends and loyalty.
4.5 out of 5 parade uniforms.