Like chugging a $200 bottle of pinot noir while feeding a steady methamphetamine habit, Tom Tykwer
's take on Patrick Suskind's perverse classic Perfume takes out all the novel's dark teases and replaces them with his patented conniption-fit editing streaks and flashy color sweeps.
Since birth, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (newcomer Ben Whishaw
) has had a curiously strong sense of smell, bordering on superhuman. Born and continuously dropped-off under bad signs, Jean-Baptiste eventually makes his way to Paris where he becomes the apprentice of Baldini (Dustin Hoffman
), an elderly perfumer who was once famous for his flourishing scents. Baldini wants to be able to compete with modern perfumers, but Jean-Baptiste has loftier ambitions. After murdering a young fruit girl, Grenouille becomes obsessed with cultivating the scent of women by any means possible. He leaves Baldini and heads for Grasse, the supposed kingdom of scent, where he encounters Antoine Richis (Alan Rickman
) and his fiery, redheaded daughter (Rachel Hurd-Wood
). It is here that Grenouille perfects away of capturing the scent of women and begins collecting the 12 women that will compose his ultimate scent... by paying with their lives. Article continues below
Though terrifically overrated, Run Lola Run was certainly a fresh movie at the time of its release. Few films looked like it and the premise was derivative but never boring. Tykwer solidified a certain style in that film that carried into The Princess and the Warrior, but didn't become substantial until he directed Heaven, a film penned by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Heaven showed that Tykwer wasn't all flash-and-dash; a strong story with steady production and restrained direction. Perfume plays more like the lost note between the galvanizing The Princess and the Warrior and Heaven, where Tykwer is still working out the kinks in the system. In scenes where studied, levelheaded production are crucial, the film moves with Tykwer's beat, jerking and twitching with special effects and extremely-overdone zoom-ins. The style of the story itself, separating it even from its source material, exudes a precise dramatic tone that echoes that of Jack the Ripper. To bring a story of such deeply-rooted, dark psychology into a rather frenetic style takes gentle hands for which Tykwer simply doesn't provide. What follows becomes predictable and terribly hollow, allowing for the speediness of the film to take over for any character growth or attachment.
Tykwer's editing and style doesn't get quite as bad as Tony Scott
's migraine-inducing cinema of dilation, but it's not far off. The actors don't really act; they say their lines so that they can make way for the next long-range shot that can be manipulated by Red Bull-induced frenzies that never slow down. Suskind's classy, sublimely-dark novel inspired several artists, not least of all Kurt Cobain, who wrote "Scentless Apprentice" about the famed novel. On film, however, it smells of something a few steps down from Aqua Velva.