Al Pacino absolutely deserved his Oscar – CNET – ApparelGeek

Editor’s Note: The following includes references to suicide.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the 1992s The scent of a womanfrom someone who has never seen it before, that’s how Al Pacino is. The years that followed portrayed his Lt. Col. Frank Slade as an explosive force that screams “hoo-ah!” at every given opportunity. So it’s refreshing to note that while he certainly has those moments, Al Pacino’s performance is much more nuanced. The role would earn Pacino an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Actor, and the film itself would be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars and win Best Picture at the Golden Globes. So all that’s been said, is that The scent of a woman still pass the sniff test?

Charlie Simms, born in Oregon (Chris O’Donnell) attends Baird, a preparatory school in New England, on a scholarship, unlike his peers from wealthy families. In order to save money for a flight home at Christmas, Charlie takes a job on Thanksgiving weekend caring for Lt. Col. Frank Slade, a retired forest ranger who is blind, alcoholic and a con. . Slade lives in a guesthouse on his niece’s property, and despite their first meeting not going well, Charlie agrees to look after Slade when his niece and her family go out of town for the weekend. . Back to Baird, Charlie and George Willis, Jr. (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are transported to the principal’s office after seeing other students playing a prank on him. Neither gives names, even after the director tries to bribe Charlie with guaranteed acceptance at Harvard, setting up a formal investigation after the weekend. Charlie heads to Slade’s to start his weekend.

After his niece and family are discharged, Slade takes Charlie on a clandestine trip to New York, where he tells Charlie he has two goals for the weekend: to live the high life and to kill himself. Charlie isn’t sure the latter is a serious note, but Slade saves it while he freely spends a few luxurious days of extravagance in formal wear, whiskey, women, and good food. Sure enough, the suicide commentary is real, forcing Charlie to talk Slade out of it. Successfully, the duo returns home. At the official inquest, Charlie is surprised when Slade appears to ask for his support, and cheerful after Slade gives a rousing speech, defending Charlie and his moral integrity.

Picture via Universal Pictures

The most prevalent theme in the film is duality, yin and yang, light and dark. Charlie comes from a poor background and a broken family life, but his peers are wealthy and have families who can pay offences, without a second thought. Slade can get poetic and devastatingly charming, then go downright rude in the same sentence. Slade pushes his family away, while Charlie has no family to turn to for help. Charlie has little spine and Slade has too much. Blind against sight. Rat on others to get the grand prize, or keep your integrity. Visually, this dichotomy is set up early on, where Slade sits in the darkness of his home, with a contrasting beam of sunlight shining down on him through the window, and continues to use the lighting to express it through a good part of the film.

The scent of a woman progresses, the contrasts begin to soften, fading into grey. It starts slow at first with subtlety. Slade is downright hostile when Charlie reaches out to him, barking that he mustn’t be touched, that he will reach out if needed, but as the two share time together, the hostility lessens to a point where Charlie can reach out to Slade in order to help. Charlie is as strict as can be, a weak-willed boy who doesn’t drink and wouldn’t talk shit if his mouth was full of it. The changes are gradual. When Slade has done everything he wants to do, his facade gives way to the tired, broken, real man inside. Charlie and Slade begin to positively influence each other. Charlie orders a beer, a seemingly trivial thing to do, but it signals he’s starting to grow, so when he takes over while Slade is down and demands that Slade give up his gun or move on, it feels deserved. Slade is a bitter, blind ass, but Charlie helps him see that there’s still hope and a lot to live for, when he returns home to his family and is pretty playful with the kids, that also seems believable.

Picture via Universal Pictures

Which leads to another theme, which becomes stronger as the film progresses: the family. For most of the film, family is a bad word. Slade grows tired of his niece checking in on him and barking at his young children. Charlie’s father left the family years ago and he doesn’t get along with his stepfather. An excursion over the weekend sees Slade and Charlie walk into his brother’s house, where the family is clearly uncomfortable with Slade’s presence, which is only helped by Slade’s off-putting and downright rude behavior. By the end of the weekend, however, it becomes apparent that the two have developed something akin to a father/son relationship. When Charlie is dropped off at Baird, Slade reaches out to touch Charlie’s face, “seeing” him for the very first time. And when Slade shows up at Charlie’s side at the official inquest, stepping in for support and passionately defending Charlie like a father would, it cements their relationship as something deeper.

The minor characters of The scent of a woman don’t have much going for them – the movie centers mostly on Slade and Charlie – and as a result aren’t particularly memorable, but they serve the story well and do nothing to detract from it. James Rebhorn plays Director Trask as pompous and arrogant, completely lacking in integrity. Hoffman’s George Willis, Jr. is big as the rich boy who knows his father will see to it that his sins do not result in punishment. It’s O’Donnell and Pacino who drive the bus here, though, and both are exquisite. O’Donnell has American good boy charm to pull off innocent Charlie, the one who gawks at Slade’s actions, but makes his growth in the movie real insofar as you can see how he’s doing from point A to point B honestly.

As for Pacino, he delivers a master class. Every facet of her character is captured in her movements and intonations. He’s bold when needed, charming when needed, and even terrifying. You can feel Slade’s contentment as he takes Donna away (Gabrielle Awar) on the dance floor for a tango. You can feel the intense joy of being behind the wheel of a Ferrari for a while (that’s right, a blind man driving a Ferrari, and that’s one of the best and funniest scenes in the movie), and his utter desperation to choose to end his life. It’s a well-deserved performance from the Oscar Pacino earned for the role.

The scent of a woman is not what yours truly expected, and that is a good thing. It’s a gripping tale that grabs you at the start and doesn’t let go, with powerful performances from its two leads.

Rating: A

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Al Pacino absolutely deserved his Oscar – CNET – ApparelGeek