The possibilities inherent in Cohen's complex life and work are extensive, which may be why [director Lian] Lunson never gets a handle on either. Extended scenes from a tribute concert featuring artists like Rufus Wainwright are interspersed with gushing compliments from Bono, and neither is half as interesting as the curiously brief interviews with Cohen himself. Offering both too little material and too much, the movie leaves us in the bizarre position of understanding its subject no better by the end than we did at the beginning.There is some great singing in this film, and the songs are exactly what you'd want to put in front of a great singer. But Lunson simply doesn't have any documentarian panache. I get the feeling he was way too excited about the fact that he got Bono to stand in front of a door and babble about Leonard Cohen. I feel sorry for Bono -- not really, why feel sorry for Bono?! -- who quite rationally could have assumed that somewhere in the verbiage there would be a few cool phrases and these would be plucked out by the editor and it would be perfect. Instead, they ran with all the footage.
Check it out, it's Bono! He's still standing in front of that brown door! He's still got those wraparound glasses on. He's still murmuring about Leonard! Okay, let's go watch Rufus emote charmingly around Leonard-lyrics. And now... Oh! It's Bono! And that richly paneled door! And he thinks Leonard is truly sublime.
The filmmaker must have loved the idea of Cohen as an enigma. To this end, Buddhism is used heavily. Don't Buddhists ever get sick of the use of their religion to create an aura of depth and mystery around a Western celebrity? We see a lot of shots of Leonard sitting next to a fat gnome of a monk. Hey, he's a Buddhist monk. You're supposed to be automatically impressed. He doesn't have to say a damned thing interesting about Buddhism or anything else. You're supposed to just get it. Ooh, he's a fat monk! He must be full of profound wisdom. And there's Leonard sitting right next to him.
I would have liked more substance, less abstract effusion. There was a nice sequence in there about "Suzanne," accompanied by some of Cohen's drawings. Suzanne was his friend's wife, and she really did live by the river. "And she feeds you tea and oranges/That come all the way from China." Yeah, she really did serve tea that had little bits of oranges in it. Oh, all these years, I've been eating a whole orange with my tea and thinking "Suzanne." But here's Leonard, and he's saying Suzanne's tea had the oranges in it. It was Constant Comment tea, he says. (It comes all the way from Connecticut, I note.)
What's so cool about the song "Suzanne" is that it has all the concrete detail surrounding the enigmatic character and the religious mysteries. River, boats, tea, oranges, rags, feathers, honey, garbage, flowers, seaweed...
Nothing against Cohen, but the filmmaker lacked the art to make a real documentary film. It would have made a great TV show to stumble across on cable. If you want to get a sense of what a real film would be, watch "Crumb" again.