Scent of a Woman (1992)
Scent of a Woman (1992)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 36 min.

Release Date: December 23rd, 1992 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Martin Brest Actors: Al Pacino, Chris O’Donnell, James Rebhorn, Gabrielle Anwar, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bradley Whitford, Richard Venture, Rochelle Oliver, Margaret Eginton




hile his New Hampshire high school classmates prepare for a ritzy Vermont adventure, or return to their hometowns and their families, 17-year-old Oregonian Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell) instead looks for a Thanksgiving weekend job, hoping to make enough money to fund a flight home for Christmas. His assignment from the Rossi family is to look after crotchety Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade (Al Pacino) for the next few days, which sounds simple enough but proves to be an unpredictable, challenging task. Not only is the colonel a bitter, insulting, intemperate man, but he’s also blind. And he demands a lot from his aides. “Don’t ask him too many questions.”

But before classes actually conclude, a group of troublemakers pull a humiliating prank on Headmaster Trask (James Rebhorn), putting Charlie in a precarious position with those popular, rich kids, particularly because Trask believes that Charlie knows who was behind the stunt. He’s given the weekend to figure out whether or not he wants to sacrifice a personal recommendation – representing a shot at attending Harvard – to protect the guilty students. Further complicating matters is the fact that Slade insists upon flying to New York on a whim – and dragging his new assistant with him.

“This is just the start of your education, son.” Pacino is immediately spectacular, chewing up the scenery with an incredibly idiosyncratic persona. From cracking wise to unleashing creative insults to spouting obscure references to making wise observations about all sorts of things, Pacino unfurls his lines almost as if they’re all off-the-cuff. Even his grunts and chortles and spontaneous outbursts are genuine and riveting; the dialogue is exceptional and Pacino’s portrayal is alternately comical and intense. When he’s at his most disagreeable and irascible, embarrassing friends and family for his own amusement, he’s still uncannily watchable. He’s quite the scoundrel – and it’s thoroughly entertaining to see him move through people’s lives like a tornado.

A sliver of a road movie and part odd-couple misadventure, the picture’s lead duo is quite the team, sometimes brashly and sometimes charmingly helping one another have more exciting experiences and enjoy life a little bit more. Charlie’s school predicament is also looming in the background, serving as a minor lesson in how to navigate the real world – a note on survival that can best be given by an experienced veteran, even if he’s on the verge of insanity and a few revelations of his own. While the start finds Frank attempting to lure Charlie out of his shell, the tables soon turn, forcing Charlie to pry Frank from a slump.

Through various mischievous episodes (some of which are simply too long), it soon becomes evident that Frank’s snippets of wisdom tend to conceal the immense pain and regret he harbors; the considerable despair of facing the choices made that led him to his current state of solitude. Although O’Donnell is suitable, this picture really is a one-man show; Pacino’s performance is that rare kind that captivates all on its own, stealing every scene away from everyone else in it. Curiously, this means that when a resolution for Charlie’s school conundrum finally arrives (an event that can’t live up to what came before it, as it’s not centered on Slade and it doesn’t have the same gravity or potentially severe consequences) – and it momentarily doesn’t include the colonel – the momentum seems to have died down. Fortunately, however, the script is smart enough to let the film conclude with Pacino returning for the last word – a sagacious decision that brings back the one element that truly excels (one so momentous that when he’s not onscreen, everything else feels inconsequential). It also helps that the movie has such a continuously heartwarming and funny vibe.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10