Al Pacino has been nominated for six acting Oscars, four of them for best actor. And anyone who has seen three of the films that brought him those nominations "The Godfather, Part II," "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Serpico" may be surprised that he hasn't won.
In each case, of course, there has simply been some very heavy competition. And this year will probably be no exception. Although, it's possible that Pacino could wind up in both categories as best supporting actor for "Glengarry Glen Ross" and as best actor for "Scent of a Woman."
The "Glengarry" nomination is questionable but a best actor nomination for "Scent of a Woman" is as close to a sure thing as you can get. The reason, however, has as much to do with the nature of this film as it does with Pacino's performance.
If ever there was a grandstanding role that might as well have "Oscar Nomination" flashing under it, this is it. Pacino chews up the scenery and spits it out all over the room as he plays retired Lt. Col. Frank Slade, an embittered Army veteran who is now blind. Not to mention alcoholic, angry and foul-mouthed. Of course, he's also witty and bright. And though he starts out as a gruff monster, it's obvious that we will gradually see the sweeter side of his personality nurtured here.
This is a movie with absolutely no surprises and an ending that is far too saccharine. It's also far too long at more than 21/2 hours. (There's a perfect place to stop the action close to the two-hour mark . . . but it goes on for another half-hour anyway.)
The story begins with the focus on young Charlie Simms (Chris O'Donnell), a student with no money who is surrounded by rich kids at the New England preppie institution where he has a scholarship. When his buddies take off for a Thanksgiving ski trip, Charlie looks for work to get him through the holidays. He answers an ad and finds himself hired to baby-sit Slade so the family can have some time away. It only takes Charlie five minutes to know this isn't for him but he's talked into staying anyway.
No sooner is the family gone, however, than Slade calls a cab and he and Charlie head off for a wild weekend in Manhattan. Charlie finds himself the reluctant companion as Slade spends his saved-up pension checks on a room at the Waldorf-Astoria, expensive food in posh restaurants and a lot of alcohol. He also shows Charlie how to charm women, something he's very good at, though he describes them with male-chauvinistic vulgarities early on.
All the while, Slade's dark side ferments, and occasionally erupts with bile.
Indeed, despite a light air much of the way, the movie is loaded with dark undertones as it is gradually revealed that Slade has a method to his weekend of madness, a master plan that he is fulfilling and which could end in tragedy.
Meanwhile, Charlie is pondering a dilemma of his own. Before taking up with Slade, he witnessed an act of vandalism and was told by the school's headmaster that revealing the perpetrators could help him land a Harvard scholarship. On the other hand, if he keeps quiet, he can kiss Harvard goodbye.
Aside from its predictable storyline, which is one of the cinema's oldest tough old codger attempts to corrupt young innocent but instead finds himself softened "Scent of a Woman" is mostly a series of vignettes offering opportunities for Pacino to show off his considerable acting talent. Some of these moments are utterly charming, as when Slade does the tango with a stranger in a restaurant. Others, such as a Thanksgiving dinner with an estranged brother's family, are very mean-spirited. (And the unnecessary and prolonged ending seems tacked-on.)
But then there's Pacino and the considerable chemistry he conjures up with O'Donnell. Too bad the script and direction are not as adventurous as the actors.
Still, while Bo Goldman (writer of "The Rose," "Melvin and Howard," "Dick Tracy") and Martin Brest (director of "Beverly Hills Cop," "Midnight Run," "Going in Style") may go for the obvious, Pacino and O'Donnell breathe freshness into their actions. They make it most entertaining. Even when you're looking at your watch.
"Scent of a Woman" is rated R for language profanity and vulgarity. There is also some violence.