Proving once again that being disabled has its rewards, Al Pacino took home the Oscar for his portrayal of the fiesty, spirited Colonel Frank Slade. "Scent of a Woman" is a journey with two men...the blind, seemingly bitter, yet oddly romantic Slade and the young man, Charlie (Chris O'Donnell) charged with watching him for the weekend.
It is the journey that makes "Scent of a Woman" such a captivating film. O'Donnell offers a performance here that defies the usual coming-of-age film. Charlie is a more guarded young man, and O'Donnell infuses Charlie with a presence that is attentive but never fully surrendered. Slade, on the other hand, seems to embrace only the scent of a woman. It is a scent he seems resigned to accepting he will never fully possess. He knows he is blind and angry and bitter, but there is something within him that still lives with a tiny light turned on.
The early scenes with Slade are challenging as Pacino takes his character over-the-top, then gradually pulls him back in. By the end of "Scent of a Woman," we can grasp who the man is, where he has been, and, quite possibly, where he is going.
Director Martin Brest received an Oscar nomination for the film, yet I can't help but question the film's resolution. In taking these characters on such a delightful, authentic journey I found myself incredibly disappointed with the neatly tied together ending that seemed altogether too clean and too sterile for two such unique characters.
"Scent of a Woman" is, in many ways, a sad film because these characters, even with their neatly tied up resolutions at the end of the film, seem destined for sadness. Slade, in particular, has attached so much significance to the love of a good woman that even in his bravado it is hard not to feel sadness at his resignation.
Sometimes, even when a critic, it is hard to be truly objective when reviewing a film. Some films tap into life experiences or push buttons or challenge one so greatly that objectivity becomes a near impossibility. "Scent of a Woman" is such a film. As an adult living with a disability, I live a life much like that of Slade...a life of great adventure, fun, spirit, and passion. Yet, also like Slade, I have become resigned to the fact that my one true desire in life, to be loved fully and completely, may be the only thing I never have.
"Scent of a Woman", behind the Oscar-winning performance of Pacino, strong performance of O'Donnell, and an Oscar-nominated script is a film of great power because with tenderness and respect it shares the peaks and valleys in the shared journey of these two men. Only a far too tidy ending keeps "Scent of a Woman" from being a landmark film. Instead, it is merely a damn good one.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic