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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer - A Tom Tykwer Film

The Outrageous Story of a Strangely Gifted Murderer

About.com Rating 2 Star Rating


Perfume: The Story of a Murderer - A Tom Tykwer Film

Ben Whishaw as Jean-Pierre Grenouille in Perfume

German director Tom Tykwer took a serious risk when he decided to adapt a novel that relied on a sense that can't be reproduced in the movies. His nose isn't the problem here--his ears are. Perfume, the movie, looks and smells just fine, but it's tone deaf.

Patrick Süskind's 1985 bestseller somehow managed to sell the dark fable of the strangely gifted 18th-century murderer Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. In a remarkable literary sleight-of-hand, Grenouille's outrageous story convinced as a feverish, murderous fairy tale with a strong undercurrent of morality play. Tykwer tells it as if he’s remaking Amadeus: swelling music, ponderous voice-overs, extras, costumes, the works–but not a whit of humor.

Ben Whishaw and Dustin Hoffman in Perfume

As a procession of images that illustrate the novel, Perfume is handsome enough, and newcomer Ben Whishaw does a fine job with the rather thankless role (his nose gets all the close-ups.) Worried father Richis (Alan Rickman) glowers and gnashes his teeth, and his daughter Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is suitably delectable as the red-headed object of Grenouille’s olfactory obsessions. Only Dustin Hoffman, as the Italian perfumer Baldini, is allowed the occasional moment of warmth or levity.
At two and a half hours, Perfume lumbers, creaks, and stubbornly insists on its own importance where it should have been breezy and sly. As straight historical thriller, the story of the monstrous Grenouille is completely preposterous; a more knowing attitude and a less somber tone might have helped to make it work on screen. It’s surprising that the director of Run Lola Run didn’t make a movie that’s lighter on its feet.
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