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Is this that Italian movie?

Scent of a Woman is both a 1974 italian film and a 1992 american remake film that also draws from the novel Il buio e il miele. In this writeup I will only talk about the '92 version.

Al Pacino won an Academy Award for Best Actor and the film received nominations for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay

Dramatis Personæ

  • Chris O'Donell as Charlie Simms; a gifted, humble, 'nice guy' who studies at an exclusive prep school in New England, payed for by a scholarship
  • Al Pacino as Lt. Colonel Frank Slade, a blind, bitter alcoholic retired Army officer
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman as George Willis Jr, fellow student of Charlie
  • James Rebhorn as Mr. Trask, headmaster of the school
  • Nicholas Sadler, Todd Louiso and Matt Smith as Harry Havemeyer, Trent Potter and Jimmy Jameson respectively, spoiled students, sons of wealthy families and authors of a prank

(Part of the) Plot

Charlie Simms studies at an exclusive prep school where the majority of students comes from a wealthy background, which isn't Charlie's case. In order to save money to fly with his mom for the Christmas holidays, he accepts a job during the Thanksgiving weekend to look after a blind man who happens to be Frank Slade, an alcoholic and bitter retired army officer who doesn't like Charlie

Back in his school, Charlie and a fellow student called George Willis Jr. witness three rich kids, Havemeyer, Potter and Jameson, up in a ladder against a light post, right above Headmaster Trask's parking spot. George shouts at his boys to find out what they're doing, and they reply asking George not to attract attention.

Mrs. Hunsacker, part of Mr. Trask's staff hears the shouting and gets close to Charlie and George to find out what's causing the noise. When the rich kids spot Hunsacker, they hurriedly get down the ladder while George tries to distract Hunsacker, but in their hurry they make more noise with the ladder and Hunsacker notices that someone was there, but doesn't see who.

The next morning, Mr Trask parks a brand new Jaguar, which was a gift to him from the Board of Trustees of the school. Right when he steps out of the car, the P. A. System broadcasts an offensive poem (being read by the rich kids hidden in a lab) that suggests that Trask got the Jaguar because he was figuratively kissing the Trustee's ass. Meanwhile, a huge balloon starts filling right above the Jaguar, revealing an offensive cartoon depicting Mr Trask. When the Headmaster pops the balloon, it bursts and both him and the car get soaked with some paint that was in the balloon.

Later, George and Charlie are questioned in private by the Headmaster about who did the prank. They both deny knowing who did it and Trask threatens them with expulsion if they don't confess by next Monday (this was on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving). Trask then dismisses George and bribes Charlie with a free pass to Harvard if he confesses, but he remains silent.

Charlie then goes to his weekend job and finds out that Slade is planning a trip to New York City. Charlie tries talking him out of it, but he ends up tagging along with him. The adventure begins here...

Is it any good?

In my humble opinion, it's a must see.

The movie is certainly not a light one. First of all, it's relatively long (2.5 hours) and it deals with rather heavy and dramatic character development. There's the moral dilemma of Charlie (whether to confess who did the prank and accept a bribe or remain silent and face expulsion even if he can right a wrong) that apparently has no "right" way of getting out of. Then there's the backstory of Slade: How did he go from a top man in Lyndon B. Johnson's staff to a blind opinionated man? The rough face of Slade has more than meets the eye. Then there's the mysterious trip to NYC: why would a blind man book a first-class flight to one of the world's biggest cities during a major holiday?

The movie is a dramatic play on the many differences between a doe-eyed optimistic young man and a bitter and harsh old man. In my opinion, the writing hits several moments of brilliance, specially on that climatic scene at the end where traditional roles are reversed in a way. Pacino excels at portraying a very complex character, both in the external and internal acting. Although the music isn't Newman's best work, it's worth listening to even without the movie itself.

I'm not a critic, so my opinions tend to be either "Yes", "No" or "Meh", and this one gets a great Yes