By Natasha Samreny
Scent of a Woman is a rich example of classic storytelling maintaining its power through the years. In this American remake of an Italian tale, Al Pacino, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Chris O’Donnell continue to captivate. If you love the film already and want to make it part of your collection, consider its HD-DVD or Blu-ray versions, released later. It seems neither color nor sound were improved for this film until then. To fans’ dismay, Universal has yet to update any discs with special features beyond the outdated text-centered cast/crew list and bios.
When the family of retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade (Al Pacino) travels away for Thanksgiving, young prep school student Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell) is hired to assist the tempestuous, blind colonel for the weekend. But Slade’s planned a farewell weekend for himself at a luxurious hotel in New York, where he plans to savor final tastes of food and sex before he offs himself out of his misery. Poor with an untainted moral radar, Simms gets caught up as a suspect witness in a school prank performed by his richer, carefree school friends, just before he leaves for the weekend as Slade’s paid aide. While Simms struggles for his future, Slade fights for his own life.
In step with Pacino’s commanding invitation to silence, O’Donnell’s innocent character visibly develops in response throughout the film. In such a heavy tale, light moments are few by the second half and mostly cradled in the obvious contrast between the hardened colonel’s expectations and his inexperienced assistant’s naiveté. But even before Pacino enters the film, I was delighted by a young Seymour Hoffman in his supporting but unforgettable part as O’Donnell’s rich friend with a less-developed moral compass, but complete conviction in his role.
The driving force beside the strong cast includes director Martin Brest, screenplay writer/playwright Bo Goldman and composer Thomas Newman. The trio also teamed up on Meet Joe Black. Newman’s mounting composition style is recognized in other big films like The Shawshank Redemption and Revolutionary Road. Pacino and Goldman also worked together in the 1996 drama City Hall. Now-veteran cast and crew members share several film, stage, music and writing nominations and awards between them.
The film is presented in its original widescreen 1:85 format. There didn’t seem to be any compression artifact. The coloring is consistently warm throughout, showcasing rich yellow, reds, greens and browns throughout. This is especially beautiful for the opening, and later campus scenes shot outside, and brings out a peachy tone in the characters’ skin.
The audio setup is Dolby Digital 2.0. The sound is somewhat spread out and mixed well, but doesn’t offer any special spatial depth for the audience. In dialogue with Pacino, O’Donnell’s voice gets lost in some scenes, as if the levels were set primarily for Pacino’s booming theatrical projection. However, Thomas Newman’s film score offers another storytelling layer that blends tellingly with the movie’ dramatic highs and lows. Anticipating, pushing, but never overwhelming the film’s pace.
The DVD release does not include special features, besides text on screen production notes and bios of cast and crew.
Buy the movie, but not the DVD. The film’s more recent Blu-ray release is said to have enhanced color and video quality. Whether it’s for the story, the acting, or the directing, the film delivers.