Archive Review: Scent of a Woman (1992)


Squarely on the shoulders of Al Pacino rests “Scent of a Woman,” a film of unlikely friendship and moral education spanning an epic 187 minutes. It is film built on memorable quotes and moments from Oscar-winning “One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest” adapter Bo Goldman as well as one unforgettable performance.

Though its length deflates a lot of its punch, there’s a great humor driving “Scent of a Woman.” Pacino’s portrayal is magnetizing and reckless — the master of on-camera shouting perfecting his craft. You laugh because he makes you uncomfortable, he’s blind and his dialogue is, well, frank. He speaks his mind because he’s not afraid of the consequences. He enjoys the pleasures of life, particularly women, he drinks without abandon and yet there’s an uncanny wisdom in everything he says or does. Sometimes an exceptional character study can make a movie and Pacino’s Col. Slade certainly does.

The film is about how a young man at a prestigious east-coast boarding school (Chris O’Donnell) ends up taking a random babysitting job to earn some cash during Thanksgiving break as opposed to forking out for the plane ticket back to Oregon. His assignment is of course Uncle Frank, who flips the weekend upside down when he swoops off with him to New York City where Frank has some plans to live it up — and teach the young Charlie a thing or two.

Unlikely friendships are the stuff of many great films and although “Scent of a Woman” really pushes these two clashing personalities together, it’s not without the best of intent. Charlie’s subplot is that he’s leaving a big scandal behind at school during the break in which he has was interrogated by the headmaster as to who pulled a big prank. (The other witness is his friend George, played by a young Phillip Seymour Hoffman.) The headmaster has hung the threat of rescinding Charlie’s recommendation to Harvard over Charlie’s head and it his decision of whether to snitch becomes the moral dilemma that Frank will eventually assist him with.

There are great scenes in “Scent of a Woman” from the ruckus at Thanksgiving dinner when Frank takes Charlie, both uninvited, to his brother’s house where the relatives don’t think much of him to Frank teaching a young woman to tango or at one point driving a Ferrari despite being blind. Memorable moments they are, but all relevant and all worthy of every second being drawn out? No. Director Martin Brest (“Beverly Hills Cop”) could’ve cut at least a half hour from this film. Each scene concludes after the audience has already figured out what will happen.

The things that Frank teaches Charlie (and of course vice-versa) are lessons of great moral significance. There’s no denying you could quote this film over and over again whether it’s Frank shouting “Hoo-ah!” or his “there are two kinds of people in this world” speech. At the same time, scripted wisdom is not what makes a film great and that’s why greatness eludes “Scent of a Woman.” What we learn from the film we do not learn through empathy or in an organic or home-grown manner. It doesn’t make the pearls any less valuable or interesting, they’re just deprived of a blossoming epiphany.

3.5/5 Stars

Scent of a Woman (1992)
Directed by Martin Brest
Written by Bo Goldman (screenplay), Giovanni Arpino (novel “Il Buio E Il Miele”)
Starring: Al Pacino, Chris O’Donnell


  1. Great review!

    We’re linking to your film for Thanksgiving Film Thursday at

    Keep up the good work!

  1. Thanksgiving Films! – Watch: ‘Scent of a Woman’ (Martin Brest, 1992) | Seminal Cinema Outfit

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