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Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man

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As tribute concerts go, this 2005 all-star homage to pop-poet/man-about-town Leonard Cohen certainly has its moments, but few of the performances really add to our appreciation of the man they're meant to honor. Fortunately, however, Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man is sprinkled with extensive insights from a variety of exotic talking heads (of whom Cohen himself is by far the best) that get much closer to the heart of the matter.

How, for instance, can we not be charmed by Rufus Wainwright reminiscing about his first Cohen sighting? (The great man standing in his underwear, trying to revive a baby bird with regurgitated bits of sausage — then disappearing, only to return dressed in an immaculate Armani suit, just like on the album covers.) Then there's Bono likening Cohen to an old-world craftsman, citing his propensity for spending an entire year on a song, laboring for weeks to get a single word exactly right. Or Leonard himself grabbing all his own contractions by the horns, smiling at the delicious irony of being labeled a ladies' man in the '60s while spending "10,000 nights alone," or explaining how he's spent the past 10 years as an ordained monk, while secretly hating everything.

The interludes with Cohen and company are so compelling, in fact, that the largely pedestrian music that makes up the bulk of this concert film feels almost like an afterthought. An eclectic assortment of musicians ranging from Wainwright and the McGarrigle Sisters to U2 offer up consummately professional versions of various Cohen tunes in styles that range from folksy to rockist, but only occasionally do the performers really begin to communicate the essence of this most complicated of singer-songwriters — the dangerous allure, the self-deprecating wisdom, the sheer mystery.

There are some winners here — Nick Cave, perhaps Cohen's most direct spiritual heir, offers up a neatly swingin' lounge take on the title tune, and an androgynous, overweight singer called Antony steals the show with an intense performance delivered in a vibrato as insistent as Buffy St. Marie's (and a manner as convulsively fidgety as Joe Cocker's) — but every musical note is really just prelude to that moment at the movie's end when we finally get to hear the now-71-year-old Cohen perform. From the instant that voice takes center stage (a low, froggy whisper not far removed from fellow Jewish mystics Bob Dylan and Serge Gainsbourg), the words finally come alive, and a consummately Cohen-esque lyric like "There's a crack in the world — that's how the light gets in" suddenly makes complete sense. Stars Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Nick Cave, Antony, Linda Thompson, Perla Battala, Bert Orton and U2.

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man 3.5 stars (PG-13) opens Aug. 18 at Tampa Theatre. Call theater to confirm.

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