“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” might be literally odorless, but it’s, more or less, a movie for the senses. It sniffs the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Wishaw), a 16th century Frenchman who is born with a superhuman sense of smell. Born amidst the stink of marketplace, Grenouille grows up poor but with rich knowledge of odors, both good and bad. Once he grows of age, he puts his knowing nose to use, becoming the apprentice of an Italian perfume maker (Dustin Hoffman). Grenouille then becomes obsessed with finding the most pleasing (preferably, the most ethereal) smell. Naturally, the young man becomes hooked on pheromones produced by beautiful maidens. He soon begins a murder spree, in an effort to capture the scent of a woman in a bottle.

Tom Tykwer, who broke out with the brisk “Run Lola Run,” is audacious in bringing Grenouille’s imaginative story to life. He uses strong visuals to simulate odors. He makes two of Grenouille’s obsessions to be both beautiful redheads. Frank Griebe’s cinematography is stunningly alive. From the hero’s graphic birth to the chilly murders, the movie hounds with impetuous flair. It never loses its textured, earthy grit, even if the story wanders in its magic realism. In the lead role, Ben Wishaw is aptly cast, easily believable as both a childlike olfactory student and a calculating killer. Here is a disturbing portrait of evil in the form of an innocent-looking young man.

Grade: A-

The Five Senses series
Sight – Wait Until Dark (1967)
Taste – Babette’s Feast (1987)
Hearing – Children of a Lesser God (1986)

Ben Wishaw, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Simon Chandler, David Calder and Alan Rickman
Based on the novel by
Patrick Suskind
Screenplay by
Andrew Birkin
Bernd Eichinger
Tom Tykwer
Directed by
Tom Twyker
Rated R for violence, profanity, nudity, and sexual situations

Movie Trailer: