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Scent of a Woman: Script + Actor = Quality

By Olubunmi Ajiboye · March 12, 2013

 A teenager and a blind older man under unusual circumstances form a relationship during an eventful thanksgiving weekend. Unusual because the annoying, hot-tempered, lonely, and invective-spewing Lt Col Frank Slade (Al Pacino) a retired US army officer has planned out an exciting weekend which is sure to end in trouble while calm and naïve student Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell), Frank’s house-sitter for the weekend who already has troubles of his own, is just looking to raise some money for his air fare back home during Christmas.

From the minute Charlie arrives on his new job, Slade takes charge, having already booked a first class seat to new York for them both where as he later divulges to Charlie he intends to “stay in a first class hotel, eat an agreeable meal, drink a nice glass of wine, see my big brother—there’s nothing like family you know—and then make love to a terrific woman after that I’m gonna lie down on my big  beautiful bed at the Waldorf and blow my brains out” He sets out to accomplish all of these with Charlie in tow and it turns out to be a rollercoaster weekend like nothing Charlie has ever experienced.

One of the fascinating things about Slade’s character is his development over the course of the story. Having drawn us into this character, it wouldn’t make sense if the character stayed exactly the same. The whole point of pairing this boy who is still optimistic in the world and who is largely untainted by challenges with the experienced Slade, who actually caused his own blindness, is so that both characters can learn and grow from one another—the most striking being Frank’s change in learning something from Charlie’s naïve, pure optimism. In the end it seems like Slade is going to make some changes to his life, but we see that he is still going to be in certain ways that same terrifying, detached Colonel. In other words his growth is realistic.

Al Pacino’s Frank Slade keeps this movie winning with audiences. It earned him his first Oscar. Pacino gives an amazing performance as the formidable Colonel with the lifeless eyes and a personality that induces hesitant admiration and dislike. He is fearless, his speech roars, is opinionated about everything from women to cars, drives a Ferrari blind, and tangos a woman blisteringly across the dance floor—which is one of my favourite scenes in the movie.

On a negative note, the colonel’s speech on behalf of Charlie at the latter’s School’s disciplinary committee hearing grew long and arrogant, and the movie title ‘Scent of a Woman’ seems a bit too sentimental. One wonders how it relates to the story beyond a vague reference to Slade’s blindness, which is one of the issues that drives the movie.

The need to create a formidable character almost resulted in making Pacino’s Slade invincible—à la the Ferrari driving scene. And for those who thought this a tad over the top, I think movies are the place where all sorts of dramatic liberties are taken. We see it applied effectively all the time—the filibuster scene from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the famous “mad as hell” scene from Network, and who could ever forget the jaw-dropping reveal from Chinatown? Movies often serve as a playground for the hyper-real for the world’s vicarious enjoyment.

These qualities above, as well as the others mentioned, overshadow some of the lesser aspects of the story and tip this into classics territory. Despite it being released over twenty years ago, Scent of a Woman has an enduring and striking quality which has gifted the film with a lasting appeal.