Universal // 1992 // 157 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // August 9th, 2007
"Just call me Frank. Call me Mr. Slade. Call me...Colonel, if you must, just don't call me 'Sir'."
Many years after Scent of a Woman had been released, the film seems to be recognized only for the fact that it finally brought Al Pacino an overdue and much-deserved Best Actor Oscar, years after giving audiences stellar performances in The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and many others. So now that Universal has decided to release this on HD DVD, is it worth the time and extra money?
Adapted from Giovanni Arpino's novel by Bo Goldman (City Hall) and directed by Martin Brest (Midnight Run), the film's events unfold over a long Thanksgiving weekend. Charlie Simms (Chris O'Donnell, School Ties) leads a quiet life at a prestigious prep school. He and his friend George (a then virtually anonymous Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote) witness an incident where some boys vandalize the headmaster's car, and Charlie is approached by the headmaster with a challenge: tell what you saw and you will be rewarded or stay quiet and deal with the consequences. He is left with that dilemma when he visits an off-campus family to serve as a caretaker for their ailing family member while the rest are out of town.
Enter retired Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade (Pacino), a man who is very blustery, direct and confrontational, as well as completely blind. Colonel Slade has other ideas in mind while everyone else is gone, the least of which involves taking Charlie to New York on a trip to observe and indulge in the finest things. It culminates in an event that Slade has planned and Charlie doesn't know is coming, and that, combined with Charlie's school dilemma, certainly makes for an interesting long weekend, to say the least.
I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Scent of a Woman, if for nothing else than to just hear Al Pacino talk. Every sentence seems to have a gem behind it. Like his predilection for John Daniels ("he may be 'John' to you son, but when you've known him as long as I have..."), or above all else, his feelings on the physical qualities of women, like their legs, for example ("I don't care if they're Greek columns...or secondhand Steinways. What's between 'em...passport to heaven.").
Flowerly and funny dialogue aside, the film tells a pretty good story. For all of Charlie's farm-raised innocence and limited knowledge of the world, he possesses a sound sense of what's right. When he runs into Colonel Slade, he finds a man that is loud, but has seen the world. Slade has worked next to those who have shaped American policy, including President Lyndon Johnson. During those experiences, and other incidents, his moral compass appears to have been compromised, the result of seeing many things done to the Army that he knows and loves. His impression of Charlie is one of charm at Charlie's thoughts, but he becomes more and more impressed by what Charlie has to say, to the point where he found renewed faith in the man he used to be.
So, was Pacino's Oscar justified after so many previous unsuccessful tries? In a word: yeah. When you consider that there were other outstanding roles that year (Robert Downey as Charlie Chaplin and Denzel Washington as Malcolm X are two that come to mind), it certainly is quite the accomplishment. There is no denying that compared to other performances, it appears more to be more a recognition for career achievement than a singular accomplishment, but I think that when you look at the personal refinement that Frank Slade goes through, it certainly holds a place in Pacino's filmography as one of his better roles. Sure, he continues the trend of excessive yelling, something he's arguably done since Tony Montana, but more often than not he's just playing abrasive and doing it to stay true to the character of Frank Slade. As the other part of the unlikely duo, though I've never been a fan of O'Donnell's performance, as he does that "Iowa Farmboy" character type a bit too much for my liking. Strangely enough, I think he needs a good war movie to toughen him up and get that saccharine charm out of his countenance.
Technically speaking, the VC-1 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer actually does provide a decent contrast and depth as opposed to its standard definition counterpart. Blacks are consistent throughout and there is a noticeable difference on high def. It might not be the cleanest print in the world, but I wouldn't kick it out of bed for eating crackers. The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is the bigger disappointment here. Granted, there's not a lot of activity through the course of the film, but the score sounds pretty flat and isolated. As far as extras go, it's a bummer that it hasn't gotten the treatment it deserves, be it a director's commentary or otherwise, but the film still stands for itself to a certain degree.
Parts of it remain a wee bit cheesy for my liking, but past that, the movie's running time isn't completely justified. I mean, two and a half hours for a lot of talking is a tough sell. The tango scene? Nice and all, but of all the bigger things in the film that hold up, this one doesn't. And the lack of decent supplements on any Martin Brest feature is mighty disappointing.
Well since we're talking about yet another Universal film that doesn't get the love and attention that it deserves, the only thing I can really answer is whether or not you want to upgrade the disc if you've already got it. There's certainly a difference in picture quality, but that's the only reason. Until Universal steps to the plate and does something with this film in the supplemental area, you're upgrading at your own risk. If you don't have it, then sure, invest the money.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 157 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated R