Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hoo-wah!

Scent of a Woman
Director: Martin Brest
Cast: Al Pacino, Chris O'Donnell, James Rebhorn, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Bradley Whitford
Released: December 23, 1992

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (lost to Unforgiven)
Best Director - Martin Brest (lost to Clint Eastwood for Unforgiven)
Best Actor - Al Pacino (won)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Bo Goldman (lost to Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for Howards End)


This movie kind of reminded me of Rain Man, in that there's a younger guy aiding around an older guy who needs assistance and the younger guy learns a lesson from the older guy. But that's about where the similarities end.

This is a movie I thought I had seen before, but when I watched it, nothing about it was familiar to me so I must have been thinking of another movie (hmmm, maybe it was Rain Man? I know I've seen that!) Charlie Simms (Chris O'Donnell) is a student at a prep school who takes a job of taking care of blind, retired Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade (Al Pacino). Frank lives with his niece and her family. They are going out of town for the Thanksgiving weekend and the niece is looking for someone to watch her uncle because she would feel more comfortable if she knew he had someone around to help him. Even though he goes to a private school, Charlie does not come from a wealthy family and needs money to fly home to Oregon next Christmas. The gig pays $300 and seeing that he is the only one to show up for the interview, he gets the job.

When he first meets Frank, he keeps calling him "sir" even though Frank's niece told him not to call him that. It is clear to see that the Colonel is miserable and grouchy and likes to drink. Charlie is unsure about what he's gotten himself into, but since he needs the money, he goes ahead and takes the job.

The day before he is suppose to start his new temporary job, Charlie is at school with his friend George (played by a young Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and they see a couple guys they know setting up a prank which happens the next day. They fill up a huge balloon full of some kind of goop on a lamp post that hangs over the spot where the headmaster (James Rebhorn) usually parks. The goop goes all over the headmaster's fancy new car AND the headmaster. Charlie and George are both questioned, but neither say anything. They both agree not to tell their parents about it, then Charlie finds out that George has told his father because he's rich and he thinks he can get him out of it.

Before they leave for their trip, the niece tells Charlie to make sure her uncle doesn't have more than four drinks and to water them down. She gives him a piece of paper with the number where they can be reached if he needs to contact them for anything.  To Charlie's surprise, Frank ends up whisking him away on a first class flight trip to New York City. Charlie wants to know what's going on, but Frank says he will tell him "on a need-to-know-basis".  He gets them a room at the Waldorf-Astoria and takes them to dinner at a fancy restaurant. Charlie asks him how he's paying for all this and Frank tells him he saved up a lot of his disability checks and that that is all part of his "plan". Charlie inquires about this so-called plan and Frank simply tells him that his plan is to stay at a first class hotel, eat an agreeable meal, drink a nice glass of wine, see his big brother, and make love to a terrific woman. He concludes his plan by saying, "And after all that, I'm gonna lie down on my big, beautiful bed at the Waldorf and blow my brains out." Needless to say, Charlie is taken aback by this and says, "Excuse me, did you say you were going to kill yourself?" And Frank replies with, "No, I said I was gonna blow my brains out!" It was right at this moment where I told myself, He's not going to go through with it! And remember, I've never seen this movie before...I didn't even know this was a plot point! Okay, maybe it's not a surprise that he (uh....spoiler alert?) did NOT die!

They go to visit his brother for a surprise Thanksgiving visit and nobody is very happy that he's there as he's the black sheep of the family. I can see why the family isn't very fond of Frank. He harasses them and tells inappropriate stories around the dinner table (good thing there were no kids present!) and is very forward. Bradley Whitford plays his nephew and he especially despises his Uncle Frank. He tells Charlie the story of how Frank lost his eyesight: he was teaching hand to hand combat to another lieutenant and juggling grenades. He dropped one and the pin came out and blew up, thus blinding him. He was drunk at the time which explains the stupidity of this act.


The title of the movie comes from Frank being able to tell the type of perfume a woman is wearing. One of the more well-known scenes from the film is when he dances the tango with a young woman who he's trying to hook Charlie up with, but alas, the woman is married. Charlie is worried about Frank's depression so he takes him to a car dealership so they can test drive a Ferrari. The salesman tells them that he cannot let a 17-year-old kid behind the wheel of a $190,000 car with a blind companion. Even though Chris O'Donnell does look young (because he was young in this!), he does not look 17! I believe he was 22 when he filmed this. They should have just made his character a college student. Phillip Seymour Hoffman was also very young in this, but again, does NOT look like a teenager! Oh, well, this was the early '90s when 30 year olds were playing teenagers on Beverly Hills, 90210! Colonel Slade bribes the guy with $2,000 in cash and tell him he's the boy's father and he's a very safe driver and he lets them test drive it. As they're driving, Charlie notices Frank still looks depressed so he takes the car to an abandoned street part of the city (I didn't know there were even places like that in New York!) and lets him drive.


He's driving the car super fast and tells Charlie to let him know when to turn, but Charlie doesn't want him to and he tells him he's going to turn whether he helps him or not, so Charlie finally tells him and he skids the car on a turn. They are eventually caught by a police officer who gives them a warning...and he doesn't even notice that Frank is blind! That seems a bit stupid on the police officer's part! He's even holding out the registration to Frank and asks him if he wants it back.

The big emotional scene of the movie comes when they return to the hotel and Frank says he's going to take a nap and asks Charlie to go downstairs to get him some aspirin. He also wants him to go to a shop and get him some cigars. Charlie makes it down to the lobby and is about to leave, but has a sudden change of heart as we see him turn around and walk back on the elevator. Right after they had returned from test driving the Ferrari, Frank had a bit of a meltdown as he started walking across a busy street. Charlie kept asking him if he was okay and he insisted he was. When Charlie returns to the room, he sees the Colonel is in his uniform and has his gun out. Charlie tells him to give him the gun, but Frank points it at him and threatens him, telling him he's going to shoot him first, that his life's finished anyway since he's most likely to get expelled from school since George is going to tell on him for knowing about the prank. The Colonel begins a countdown from five and when he reaches one and points the gun at his head, Charlie lunges at him and grabs the gun. Frank tells him to "Get out of here!" and Charlie says he's staying right there and Frank, once again, threatens to kill him to which Charlie replies, "You want to do it? Do it!" Charlie tells him to get on with his life, but Frank tells him he has no life and that "I'm in the dark here!" Charlie tells him they should both give up and encourages him to pull the trigger. Oh, I get it. He was using reverse psychology, right? Frank tells him he (Charlie) doesn't want to die and Charlie in return tells Frank he doesn't want to die either. Frank says, "Give me one reason not to" and Charlie tells him, "I'll give you two: you can dance the tango and drive a Ferrari better than anyone I've ever seen." This reveal seems to amuse Frank and tells him, "You've never seen anyone do either." This seems to work because we hear the swell of triumphant music as Frank puts down the gun.

The last big scene of the movie is when Charlie goes back to school the following Monday and there whole school has assembled together to have a hearing about the prank. I feel like if you question a student in front of the ENTIRE school, of course they're not going to say anything! Colonel Slade, who had dropped Charlie off, comes back with his chauffeur and sits next to Charlie for support. To be honest, this entire subplot of the movie with the school prank disinterested me, but Charlie doesn't snitch on his friends and isn't expelled and everyone cheers...for some reason. I forgot to mention there was a nice moment when Colonel Slade has just dropped Charlie off (well, his chauffeur, obviously) and he touches Charlie's face as a way to remember him.

I would recommend this movie, but it is a little on the long side, so be prepared for that. I was about two hours into it and I checked to see how much time was left, and there was still about another hour! While Al Pacino is great as the blind Colonel Slade and deserving of an Oscar nomination, it does seem a bit crazy that he won over Denzel Washington in Malcolm X. It's been awhile since I've seen that movie, but that was more of the Oscar baity role. Well, that's probably why Denzel won for Training Day several years later. If you remember, a lot of people thought it was going to go to Russell Crowe for A Beautiful Mind, but I knew Denzel was going to win, because, if you remember, Crowe had just won the year before for Gladiator, plus wasn't this around the time he was being a huge prick?  I don't think anyone is angry Al Pacino has an Oscar, but he had some pretty stiff competition. But when have the Oscars ever made sense? Exactly.

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