An intimate drama that revolves around two very different men: Frank Slade (Al Pacino) a reclusive retired Lt. Colonel who lost his sight in an accident, bitter, old, cynical and suicidal enslaved to booze and abrasively critical of those who come into contact with him and scholarship student Charlie Simms (Chris O’ Donnell) at a posh New England Baird prep school , who is a naive and optimistic young man who fears expulsion if he doesn’t identify some classmates he witnessed playing a nasty prank on the headmaster. Charlie takes up a weekend job over Thanksgiving to earn some money to buy his ticket home for Christmas. Over the weekend, on an unexpected trip to New York for ‘a last trip of pleasure’, Slade teaches Charlie a few lessons of life while Charlie helps him break free from the disposition which held him captive.
Slade wants simple pleasures in life but his bitter disposition is what prevents him to become anyone’s favourite and he tries to drown his pain in pegs of Jack Daniels. Over the trip to New York, he stays in a fancy Hotel and eats at the finest restaurants. He claims to tell all about a woman by her scent and marvels at the beauty of Women. He is a womanizer, a drunkard who imposes himself and has a crude language. But as the movie progresses, he comes across as a sensitive man who is a romantic at heart and all he wants is a woman to wake up to. He confides in Charlie, while suggesting him to take the easier path in the dilemma he is caught in, at school. It is Charlie’s unflinching sense of integrity what moves him deeply; and it is his optimism and genuine concern for the colonel which melts his heart. The movie is a captivating assembly of the highs and lows of a brief journey these men take together and come out as great friends, supportive and affectionate for each other.
Al Pacino’s skill as an actor is simply captivating and also gave him his much deserved first Oscar as best actor. Amazing direction by Martin Brest makes it a delight to watch. While Al Pacino holds everyone captive with his remarkable portray of a man held captive by his own ego and the faded grandeur of Army, O’ Donnell carves a niche for himself and shows that it is more than a coming of age film.
However, for a film of such contrasting and real characters, set over a plot of such calibre, the ending seems hushed up and neatly put across a ‘happy ending’. It is a sad movie, the colonel’s crushing pain is only too much to let the audience regain indifferent and while the movie ends, his romantic aspirations and his relations with others are only going to bring painful loneliness. Also, Charlie’s problem is resolved in an un-pragmatic fashion, putting him in an ambiguous situation.
Regardless of it, this movie would make it to the list of “must watch movies”. Richard Propes from The Independent says ‘Only a far too tidy ending keeps “Scent of a Woman” from being a landmark film. Instead, it is merely a damn good one.’
– Abhyuday Gupta