‘Scent of a Woman’ – ’92 Cinema Revue

Scent of a Woman – #14 in the U.S. (Dec. 25-27)

All-Time Domestic $63,095,253 | All-Time International $71,000,000
All-Time Worldwide $134,095,253

Scent of a Woman can be seen as enjoyable, but it wafts in the air for too long to leave a lasting reminder.

Some finales are a whimper; others are a bang. So when beginning the ‘92 Cinema Revue series, I wondered how it would play out even in constructing the list. Would the final film be worth the year’s effort, or would it flatten out? Instead, we end on a Best Picture nominee, the fifth and final one, with an award-winning performance for Best Actor from Al Pacino by Martin Brest, whose previous Midnight Run is nothing short of amazing and brilliant. That sounds like a promise for a great note to end on.

When adding the films to the list, the ones I had never seen, I only went off the basis of their premise or what has been talked about with them. For Scent of a Woman, it was based on Pacino’s oft-meme of “Hoo-ah!” and his Oscar win. But, admittedly, it’s pretty hard to beat Midnight Run.

Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell) is looking for a weekend job for Thanksgiving weekend. He finds a gig with Luitentent Colonel Frank Slade (Al Pacino), a blind veteran who takes Charlie out for a weekend getaway in New York. Yet, before heading out to the Big Apple, Charlie is dealing with the consequences of not confessing to seeing his perceived friends set up a prank to be played on the headmaster of his boarding school. He calls on his friend George (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) to see how they can avoid getting expelled before meeting with the school’s council at a hearing. While out with Frank, Charlie learns how to live life for himself rather than under the thumb of others. Frank shows him this via extravagant dinners, tango dances, a test drive, and glasses upon glasses of Jack Daniels.

Scent of a Woman is a fun romp that overstays its welcome with a Pacino performance that borders on caricature. Pacino is a fantastic actor and has delivered multi-layered performances that remain iconic. Yet, this is the one that gets the award beating Denzel Washington’s turn as Malcolm X? This is what beat Clint for Unforgiven? Yikes.

Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino) and Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell) present their case to the school council. Source: Universal Pictures

This was Pacino’s “legacy” win for delivering other great performances; the Academy had forgotten to give him one. This is far from his best performance, but it is the Pacino many know now: loud, abrasive, and manic. It’s Pacino doing the most to diminishing returns. There are moments when he gets down in the dumps, which is effective. Yet, after decades of memes poking fun at Pacino, the role itself feels almost like a parody of itself. It’s become a dated performance now marred by two iconic performances from Washington and Eastwood snubbed in the wake of Pacino’s win. 

His chemistry with his unlikely partner, Charlie, has a father-son quality, with Frank being a hard-ass to Charlie. O’Donnell can hold his own against Pacino only because he feels like an actual person rather than a walking cartoon. Charlie has never experienced the high-class lifestyle, nor does Charlie come from wealth like the classmates he is defending. Yet, Charlie lets people walk all over them with a perception he needs to fall to their demands and needs rather than his own. Charlie grows in the film, helping Frank not lose himself and standing up to him. It’s a solid performance from O’Donnell, who most may be familiar with as Robin in Batman Forever.

Donna (Gabriella Anwar) is whisked away to the dance floor by Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino) into a tango. Source: Universal Pictures

When it comes to the plot and story, it does go on for too long as it should have. The tango is a sweet part, with Frank leading a woman named Donna in a graceful dance. The Ferrari test drive is a fun escape; seeing Frank scares Charlie the absolute hell out. Yet, these moments are few and far between. The family visit can be heartwrenching, especially the verbal assault from Frank’s nephew, Randy, played by Bradley Whitford. But, the melodrama lingers here, carrying into every aspect of the film. It’s melodramatic, with the score urging those watching to let out a tear, but it did not work for me. I didn’t feel any emotional weight to some scenes, which comes down to the Pacino performance. It dampened the experience.

The third act special hearing scene also weighed the film down. Ending the movie on faux courtroom drama style with a heartwarming and uplifting ending rang false and unearned. A finish with an ambiguous resolve would have sufficed, but given that it’s nearly akin to how Midnight Run ends, I can see why Brest would want to avoid it. Unfortunately, this would be the moment the film lost me, and given how close it was to A Few Good Men, I’ve already seen another better film end with a banger of a courtroom scene. The speech about Charlie not selling out or giving in is excellent, but it would have been greater if Charlie had taken the reigns rather than Frank. Frank means well, and Pacino gets Frank’s anger and support across, but this is part of Charlie’s arc. The applause and uplifting music after the last “Hoo-ah!” also add to the falsehood of the scene, only resulting in me laughing for all the wrong reasons.

Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino) and Charlie Simms (Christ O’Donnell) get pulled over during their Ferrari test drive. Source: Universal Pictures

Scent of a Woman can be seen as enjoyable, but it wafts in the air for too long to leave a lasting reminder. The performances can stick around, yet not for the reasons intended. The film is neither a whimper nor a bang; it’s a mild shrug at best. 

Revue Rating: 3 out of 5

That’s a wrap on the ‘92 Cinema Revue. Thank you so much to those who’ve stuck around and read this series. It means the whole world exploring my birth year in film. Not every film was a hit, but there were great discoveries and horrific misfires to witness. Revisiting old favorites was also a joy to finally see with a more critical eye. 

I have a preview scheduled for the next big series starting in February, but I will take some downtime (posting-wise) to work on it behind the scenes so it is up to snuff and ready by February 1st. Also, there will be a Top 10 list for the best of ‘92 Cinema Revue, so stay tuned for that one. Till then, I’ll see you on February 1st for the next series, but stay tuned for the announcement. It’s going to be a phenomenal one.

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