Thursday, September 26, 2013

895. SMOKE (1995)

Running Time: 112 minutes
Directed By: Wayne Wang, Paul Auster
Written By: Paul Auster
Main Cast: Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Stockard Channing, Harold Perrineau, Forest Whitaker
Click here to view the trailer


This is another case of being on an actor kick, this time the actor in question being Harvey Keitel. Since I've just recently watched "Taxi Driver" and more notably for Keitel, "Mean Streets" and since this one was on the horizon, I figured I might as well go for it.

The film is sort of sliced up into five vignettes, each one paying special attention to one of the five main characters. The general plot revolves around a cigar store and it's owner, Augustus "Auggie" Wren (Keitel). He's a simple guy; he runs his store, he chit chats with the customers and he minds his own business. He has several customers that he knows, just through his interactions with them at the cigar store, including Paul Benjamin (Hurt), a novelist. Benjamin is a widow, who's wife died during a street shooting. One day, while walking home from the cigar store, Paul nearly walks into oncoming traffic, only to be pulled back onto the sidewalk by Rashid (Perrineau), a homeless seventeen-year-old with nowhere to go. Since he's just saved Paul's life, Paul feels he owes the boy something and offers him a place to stay for a few nights. Rashid ultimately accepts, but the two clash and Rashid moves out two days later. From there, Rashid goes to find his birth father, whom he hasn't seen in twelve years. Rashid does find his father, Cyrus (Whitaker) working at a garage and strikes up a conversation with him (keeping the fact that he's his son to himself, even lying about his name). Turns out Cyrus owns the garage and offers Rashid a job, which Rashid accepts. There's even a few more plots, one involving an ex-girlfriend of Auggie's (Channing), who returns claiming to have birthed their daughter years prior.

I DID like this, but not as much as I would've liked it, say ten years ago. This is just the type of movie that I used to be a sucker for: real life people, interacting in real life situations. It's something that I would've easily slapped a '10' on back then, but today I'm a little more stingy with my '10' rating and this left me wanting just a hair more. Now, I'm not going to focus on negatives, because honestly the negatives were few and far between. I'd rather focus on the positives; the fantastic cast, the atmosphere and a great script. Can I just say, before we move on that I LOVED Paul's (William Hurt) apartment in this. It was one of those Woody Allen-esque apartments, the kind of an apartment essential to a writer, with a dividing slide door, separating Paul's writing area from the rest of his place. Those great big windows out front, good for watching the streets and drumming up inspiration and even that small window above the kitchen sink, good for watching the rain pour over on a dreary day. Great set location!

Anyway, enough about that. Keitel was really great here and I realize I said in my "Mean Streets" review that he didn't make a good leading man, but I have absolutely no bones to pick with Keitel, as he almost always turns in a noteworthy performance and "Smoke" is no exception. You've also got one of my faves in William Hurt, the fantastic Forest Whitaker and Harold Perrineau, who some of you may know from HBO's Oz (as Augustus Hill, the one in the wheelchair. Oddly enough, Keitel's name in "Smoke" is also Augustus). You've also got Stockard Channing and a quick appearance from Ashley Judd (who also showed up in "Heat", my previously viewed movie).

Look, this is just a really easy to watch movie that I think a lot of you are going to love if you give it a shot. It's not one many of us have heard of, I don't think, so it's also got that hole in the wall factor, the kind of film that you can spring on people and make them think you uncovered this rarely seen, little gem. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for Harvey Keitel's big, at least ten minute monologue at the end, entitled Auggie Wren's Christmas Story, which is just a beautifully written piece. Whenever you can set a camera in front of someone and just let them go and they have the chops to pull it off, you know you've got talent on your hands and that's Keitel for ya.

RATING: 7.5/10  No real, prevalent flaws to speak of, just a really good picture. It's not top notch stellar or anything, but it's certainly worth your time.


September 26, 2013  1:39am


  1. Nice one. Decidedly one of those 'Thank you book' films that i would not have seen if it wasn't for being told to do so.
    A very interesting comment hidden away in there.. to the effect that you like less than you would have 10 years ago. Interesting because I'd have thought it was one of those that, generally speaking, this is one that people like more than they would 10 years ago. especially if 10 years ago you were late teens or 20's. Why? because it is mostly just people talking.. not that much happens.
    I'm trying to avoid making sweeping assumptions that 20's or males only like films with explosions, gang shoot outs and car chases, but on the whole, we have to accept that younger people tend to like more action in films than older people. The point I was heading towards was that this could be seen as the sort of film you appreciate more as you get older. Thats all.
    Anyway, I liked it, quite a lot.

    1. I wasn't really much of an action guy ever, even in my late teens or 20s. it's just that back then I was strictly 90s movies, from the states and that was my comfort zone. And the more it was just talking and slice of life stuff, I liked it. Still do like that kind of stuff, but I've moved out of my comfort zone and thus, have realized that there's much more out there.


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