Though he may forever be in the shadow of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen's haunting, trademark voice and intensely personal lyrics have earned him a devoted following. His profound influence is evidenced by the all-star musical lineup for 2005's "Came So Far for Beauty" tribute concert in Sydney, Australia. That concert constitutes the bulk of I'm Your Man, with performances by the likes of Nick Cave and Beth Orton, along with gushing (U2's Bono and the Edge compare Cohen to Byron, Keats and even Moses). While everyone else is busy laying it on thick, the man himself is quietly reflective of his craft, his romantic adventures, his snappy wardrobe and a career swan dive that led eventually to a retreat to an ashram in California.
Cohen's crusty commentary is often amusing and his insights fascinating, though his constant self-deprecation and humility are taken to such extremes that it starts to come off as ego in disguise. Cohen's slow, rumbling baritone would already be hard enough to decipher if director Lian Lunson didn't insist on loading the sound track with reverb, overdubs and other layers of digital murk and heavy-handed visuals.
The musical highlights include Rufus Wainwright's swooning, theatrical treatment of "Chelsea Hotel No. 2," Cohen's lusty tribute to Janis Joplin, and his killer take on "Hallelujah" that drips with passion. Less impressive are the wholly forgettable performances by Handsome Family and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, who does more of a flippant impression than an actual attempt at a cover. Though the performers vary, the superior quality of Cohen's songbook is on full display, and the movie is at its best when simply showcasing that brilliance. Though the movie fails to really capture Cohen's essence, it will at least send audiences home to root around in their collections and dig up some great old albums, and they will definitely be better served by going straight to the source.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111).
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].