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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer's destructive power of love gets inside your nostrils and stays there, a visceral tribute to smell.


Creating a scent on screen has long been thought to be impossible—but Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is an above-average effort, triggering the raw emotions from smell without the gimmicks of 1950's Smell-O-Vision. Based on the best-selling novel by Patrick Suskind, Perfume focuses on Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), a weird dude who was born into filth and poverty, amid the guts and vomit of an open-air French fish market. Although he has no human scent of his own, Grenouille's world-class sense of smell is able to penetrate people's skin—and he's attracted to the female scent. Not in a sexual way, mind you; he wants only to bottle it. When Grenouille meets fallen (but still legendary) perfumer Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), the younger sets out to titrate the most elusive perfume known to man: A woman's pheromones. Problem is, women won't stay long enough so Grenoiulle can capture their scent, and the young man ends up killing them. When Grenoiulle kills a powerful merchant's (Alan Rickman) daughter, his execution is planned for a public square.


Whishaw is the real star here, but playing Grenouille may have proven a challenge for the young British actor since the character is beloved by fans of the best-selling novel. Whishaw is forced to go mute and inert as Grenoiulle, his intensity focused inward with quiet gazes and mysterious intensity arousing doubt and fear. Grenouille is a man handsome in his youth but ultimately one we despise--or at least someone we wouldn't want to hang out with. And for a change of pace, a powdered, rosy-cheeked Hoffman comes up smelling roses in this period thriller. As Baldini, in costume flair, the two-time Oscar winner does something quite different, no longer just the colorful supporting player he's been playing in light dramas such as Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction. Baldini isn't one of Hoffman's best roles, as Whishaw owns this film, but it's a fun performance, which pays attention to the actor's pronounced proboscis. Rickman, of Harry Potter fame, is an enraged, vengeful father. Natch.


Perfume is director Tom Tykwer's first major commercial film since his 1998's go-go thriller Run Lola Run--and as a thriller, Perfume is built around solid dialogue-driven scenes, notably between Grenouille and Baldini. Apparently, 57-year-old German writer Patrick Suskind refused for years to give up the rights to his book, but producer Bernd Eichinger—the guy behind The Neverending Story's precocious 1980's futurism—finally won out. Nuggets of Suskind's literary wisdom only enhance the movie's continuity and realism, scattered incrementally to remind us we're watching an intelligently conceived film. Perfume is unwieldy at 147 minutes, however, a bit fatty and unnecessary at the film's cost. Sometimes that happens with novel adaptations, especially one as popular as Perfume. In fact, the film ends with an unusually bizarre orgy, with hundreds of naked people, writhing in hormone-driven ecstasy. What smells so lovely, Mr. Tykwer?

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.