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Great Acting Revisited -

Al Pacino - Scent of a Woman

Lesson 23

It is indeed quite hard to believe that the great method actor of Italian-American origin, Al Pacino has won only 1 Oscar to date, but then it is with quiet shock that one realizes that up until 1991, Al Pacino hadn’t even won that single Oscar, despite nominations and brilliant performances in a number of films including Godfather I,II, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and of course Scarface, which is the origin of one of the most famous one-liners every uttered in films, which is “Say hello to my little friend”, the friend here of course being Al’s machine gun. But then 1992 dawned and Scent of a Woman ended the drought for Al Pacino.

Al Pacino plays the blind Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, not injured in the line of duty, but while on duty juggling grenades with their pins off. He is full of acrimony towards the world, although he very well knows that no one is to be blamed for his own cantankerousness. His love-hate relationship with his sister and her offspring does not do much to mellow his bitterness. Al Pacino plays this part of his character with aplomb, bringing his characteristic sarcasm to the character. He then recruits the high school student, Charlie Simms, played aptly by the young Chris O’Donnell, to accompany him on one last wild trip, before he plans to blow his brains out. How Al Pacino warms up to the student and loses his bitterness forms the rest of the story, ending with the brilliant speech that saves Charlie’s educational life. Many think that this speech by Al Pacino contributed at least 50% to the Oscar Gods at last favoring him.

But before that happens, Al Pacino takes the audience through the entire range of emotional spectrum that someone who becomes blind very late in life might experience. How Al Pacino brings all that anguish and pain to his countenance is a treat to watch. In one particular scene he is determined to blow himself up for sure in a hotel room and gets dressed into the complete Army attire, but is barely stopped by Charlie, and that too when Charlie wishes him to blow both of their brains up. Right at that moment in the film, the hardy Colonel melts and realizes that there are true souls like Charlie, who do really care for a fellow human being. This transformation is brilliantly portrayed by Al Pacino, who up until that point had excelled in the part of the acerbic Colonel. Not many actors can manage this transformation convincingly, but Al Pacino pulls it off, and later of course delivers the final speech at Charlie’s inquisition in his characteristic Pacino style; full of wit, pomp, style, and of course Pacino’s characteristic brusqueness.

How Al Pacino managed to portray a blind man so effectively is still a mystery, but we are left convinced that not since the great Indian actor Kamal Hassan, who did it in 1981 with Raja Parvai, has an actor played a blind man so convincingly in films.

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