Al Pacino is undoubtedly one of the finest actors of his generation and his performance as retired Army Colonel Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman, finally earned him his long overdue Academy Award for Best Actor, however, in my opinion, it is far from his greatest role, though it is certainly a memorable one.
My problem with this film is that for me it's an example of Pacino's dominating screen presence preserving a movie that would otherwise have been mediocre at best. The basic premise of the film is fairly dull. A young prep student called Charlie takes a job aiding a blind, lonely, retired colonel over thanksgiving weekend. The weekend turns out to be considerably more eventful than he anticipated, with the Colonel taking him first class to New York for one final bourbon-soaked hurrah, before intending to end his own life. When they head out to the city I expected there to be some good and perhaps amusing scenes where these two completely mismatched characters, one bitter, world weary and cynical, the other innocent, and naive, really get at one another and, to be fair, there are a couple of excellent moments. The tango scene, in which the Colonel dances with a complete stranger, in a classy New York restaurant is truly captivating, and another where he and Charlie test drive a Ferrari around some Brooklyn back-streets is also entertaining, however if a blind man were to drive and drift a Ferrari at over 70mph in real life, there would likely be some very severe consequences. These moments are few and far between however, and with a runtime of 2 ½ hours, the film does begin to drag.
Al Pacino has faced up to, and bettered, some outstanding actors in his career (think Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco, or even De Niro in Heat), but casting him alongside Chris O'Donnell was a big mistake. It's the cinematic equivalent of feeding a lamb to a T-Rex. Pacino simply devours him in every scene; he literally walks all over him. O'Donnell's (non) performance as Charlie is just flat, bland, empty, clichéd and tepid to the point of irritation, and pretty much undermines everything good Pacino brings to the film.
Visually, Pacino does an excellent impression of a blind man, to the point where many characters in the film understandably, and believably, don't even notice. Admittedly, he isn't given the best script to work with but he still manages a couple of excellent monologues, most notably in one of the final scenes of the film, which brings me on to another failing of this picture.
The subplot, which involves Charlie facing expulsion, as a result of refusing to grass up his peers over a particularly spectacular prank involving the headmaster, just seemed trivial and insignificant, and completely undeserving of Pacino's glorious tirade about integrity, and 'facing the music' which should have really been a highlight of the film. You watch this scene, admire it, and realise there was far too little of it in the preceding 2 hours.
In conclusion, had Pacino not received the Oscar for Best Actor at some point in his career it would have been a travesty and an outrage, it's just unfortunate he received it for this role. He was so much better as Michael Corleone in The Godfather, or as ex-con anti-hero Carlito Brigante in Carlito's Way, or even as the overbearing, scenery- chewing, crack snorting gangster icon Tony Montana in Scarface. These are the roles I remember him by, and more importantly, they are vastly superior pieces of Cinema. Scent of a Woman, by comparison, is a mess. The plot is uninspired and boring, the script weak, the characters stereotypical. I've often felt that Al Pacino has an uncanny ability to make poor films average, and average films brilliant, and the former is certainly the case here. The film Two for the Money is another great example of this. A film about sports bettors with Matthew McConaughey that would have certainly been diabolical, and possibly never even released, were it not for Pacino's participation. His somehow makes it watchable... perhaps even.......interesting. Those who are new to his work (I envy you); please watch the other great films I mentioned above, before resorting to this. Disregard the Oscar. His ability to draw you into a scene and light up a film, or even just one casual line of dialogue, makes him the greatest actor of his generation, and consequently, my favourite actor of all time. It's for this reason ONLY that I give this film the 6 stars that it probably doesn't deserve.