About two-thirds into this rather grating hagiography, U2’s Bono truncates his spew of superlatives, makes his best cut-the-crap face, and asks if we can “get serious” for a moment. Get serious? This Last Waltz–like doc is almost funereal, full of reverent banalities spliced between overly folksy takes on melancholic Leonard Cohen bombshells. At the film’s core is the “Came So Far for Beauty” Cohen tribute concert held last year in Sydney, for which producer Hal Willner organized a lineup of musicians to interpret Cohen’s songs.
Always loving but at times soporific, these renditions range from a dull Beth Orton version of “Sisters of Mercy” to an unironically anthemic “Anthem” by Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla. Kate and Anna McGarrigle can usually be counted on for loopy banter, but aside from breezy-bitchy Rufus Wainwright, who also delivers a musical highlight with “Chelsea Hotel
2,” the chatty levity is left to the sly and spry old rumbler himself. Oddly, director Lian Lunson sabotages even Cohen’s bits with ominous whooshes and psycho-synth tones. Cohen so doesn’t need to be edged toward eerie. He projects creepy poet poon-hound Dionysian-Buddhist tricksiness all by himself. These spooky sonics skew Cohen’s engaging account of his years spent in seclusion as an ordained Mt. Baldy monk.
Longtime fans won’t need the Edge’s Moses comparisons to convince them that Cohen is indeed their man. And for newcomers, full performances from Sydney might make a better introduction than Nick Cave saying the usual stuff about Songs of Love and Hate making his teenage self feel cool. Performance-wise, Antony’s withering “If It Be Your Will” simply kills, though Willner might have squashed the distracting background vocals. Teddy Thompson proves again that while he carries a pretty tune, he didn’t inherit his parents’ compelling vocal serration. Martha Wainwright does “The Traitor” justice, even if Rufus still petulantly skirts the key rhyme in his oft performed cover of “Hallelujah.” But as you might suspect, with U2 behind him in a tight cabaret, Cohen, his sad eyes dancing and his growl coyly teasing, dusts ’em all with the graveyard smash “Tower of Song.”