The year is 1766, and Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) is born amid the filth of a Paris slum with an unusually well-developed sense of smell. He grows up in an orphanage, never knowing a kind word or deed, perceiving and relating to his harsh life only through smell. When as a teen, he sees a beautiful young woman for the first time, he becomes obsessed with capturing her essence in a perfume, but to do this, he must kill her. She is but the first of many young women who will be used to create a scent of perfect beauty, innocence, and even love.
In the beginning, the ugliness and brutality of slum life were so realistically portrayed I often had to look away. In contrast, the second half is set in a beautiful countryside amid luxurious surroundings. The photography and set designs are excellent as are the period costumes. Whishaw gives an intense performance as the asocial, amoral anti-hero, a fascinating and sympathetic and yet unlikable character. Dustin Hoffman is miscast as an Italian perfume maker. His American accent and deadpan delivery are laughable and out of place. Alan Rickman is very good in the small role of a nobleman.
The story of a serial killer's desire to capture unattainable essences is engrossing, while the last scenes, involving 750 nude extras, cross the line from drama to fantasy and are quite bizarre. It's an unpleasant but curiously intriguing story. 3.5 stars.