(On Cable TV, August 2016) The reason to watch Scent of a Woman isn’t as much the well-worn mentor/prodigy plot (which is structurally similar to Finding Forrester, which I coincidentally saw just a week ago) than with its memorable lead character as portrayed by one of Al Pacino’s career-best performance. Colonel Frank Slade is a piece of work: old, blind but intensely charismatic despite his abrasive personality, he has a secret plan and drags a young man through a wild weekend in New York, at the end of which he intends to kill himself. Meanwhile, the student protagonist wrestles with matters of integrity and future prospects. Their interaction makes up most of Scent of a Woman, considerably enlivened by Pacino’s “Hoo-ah!” and his propensity for straight talk. (I suspect that most men who aspire to elderly crankiness can try to emulate his character, but don’t have what it takes to achieve it.) The movie is successful at what it wants to be, although (like many of director Martin Brest’s films) it’s far too long for its own good: At more than two hours and a quarter, Scent of a Woman doesn’t have the plot complexity required to sustain its duration. (Unfortunately, it’s tough to decide what should be cut, and if some of the film’s greatest character moments would be gone along the way.) Chris O’Donnell is OK as the young audience stand-in whose mission is to be amazed by Slade’s behaviour, while Philip Seymour Hoffman shows up in his big-screen debut. The ending is a bit cheap and conventional, but it’s the journey alongside an impressive character that makes Scent of a Woman worth seeing.
(On DVD, July 2015) It’s rare to squarely point at length as a film’s main point of failure; usually, if the film is good then a few lulls won’t damage it; conversely, if a film is bad it will feel long even at 85 minutes. But Meet Joe Black is something else: A film with pretty good moments, marred by interminable subplots and, thanks to director Marti Brest, a shooting style that never makes a point in five seconds if thirty will do. A very young-looking Brad Pitt starts as Death incarnate, taking a holiday among humans to understand how we act like we do. Opposite him, Anthony Hopkins plays a Hollywood rarity: a wealthy man with some innate decency, a genuinely good guy who nonetheless escape caricature. Finally, Claire Forlani has never looked better than she does here as the daughter of the wealthy man, seduced by Death’s innocence. (Which leads to a pretty funny scene in which our businessman comes to realize that Death, nominally there to get him, has ended up sleeping with his daughter.) The film does have an understated poignancy, as death and his target negotiate the terms of our businessman’s death over a few days, timing it to ensure a small triumph. And while the film does have a few unintentionally hilarious moments (That shot of Pitt’s character being hit by two cars plays beautifully as a looped gif), it’s generally earnest in its musings. But, as stated previously, the film is fatally wounded by its pacing. There simply isn’t enough plot to justify the three-hours (!) running length –in fact, the pacing issues are glaringly obvious on an individual scene level as there is no snappiness to the editing and sequences always run longer than you’d expect. Lop off an hour (from the script, not in the editing room) and you’d have a far more potent film. As it is, though, Meet Joe Black will repeatedly put anyone to sleep.