Smoke (1995) Poster


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A beautiful depiction of humanity
Howard Schumann21 October 2002
"It's such a sad old feeling, the fields are soft and green, it's memories that I'm stealing, but you're innocent when you dream, when you dream, you're innocent when you dream" ---Tom Waits

Smoke is a very difficult film to describe because it does not unfold with a coherent narrative, but rather with slice-of-life vignettes about chance, communication, and inter-connectedness. Author Paul Auster and director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) worked on the story for years before it reached the screen and the collaboration produces a highly literate, novelistic cinema that is divided into separate chapters, each elaborating a different character. I have seen this small masterpiece many times, but I keep watching it because I love its celebration of the simple pleasures of life: friendships, good conversation, and, of course, smoking a good cigar. Smoke is not a complex or experimental film, just a beautiful and simple delineation of humanity.

Harvey Keitel plays Auggie Wren, the owner of a small cigar store in Brooklyn. An amateur photographer as well as a raconteur of tall tales, Auggie has taken one photograph a day from the street corner outside his store every day for the past 14 years. "People say you have to travel to see the world,'' Auggie says. "Sometimes I think that if you just stay in one place and keep your eyes open, you're going to see just about all that you can handle.'' When a friend comments that all the snapshots look alike, Auggie points out the differences: the light, the season, and the look on people's faces. It's all a matter of slowing down, Auggie says, being in present time, and observing what is in front of you.

One of the store's regular customers is writer Paul Benjamin (William Hurt) who hasn't published a novel since his wife died a few years ago in an incident of street violence. When a young Black man, Rashid Cole, (Harold Perrineau Jr.) saves Paul's life by pulling him away from on an oncoming car, Paul offers him a place to sleep. The lives of the two become intertwined in the young man's encounter with some robbers and in his search for his father, brilliantly played by Forrest Whitaker. When Auggie's former lover, Ruby (Stockard Channing), shows up, she tells Auggie he has a pregnant daughter (Ashley Judd) that now needs his help. These incidents come together in a powerful, fully realized conclusion.

Although Smoke has its moments of high drama, it is mostly a low-key, slice-of-life type of film that depicts events in life as happening for a purpose, not as random or chance occurrences. The characters are not "movie colorful", but ordinary down-to-earth people brought to realization by a flawless ensemble cast. The film reaches a sublime conclusion in a tender Christmas story narrated by Keitel and supported by Tom Waits' haunting song "Innocent When You Dream". Everyone ends up in a better place than when they started, including myself as viewer.
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A nice, quiet film, light years away from the (Hollywood) mainstream
zozon-124 December 2005
The characters are genuine, funny, sensitive, tragic... just human. They are sympathetic with their small weaknesses and their daily problems. The movie gives a realistic description of the daily life of ordinary people in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn has the star role. In fact the movie seems like a declaration of love to this city, although when compared to Woody Allen's "Manhattan", the approach is completely different.

The message is in a way surprising (maybe because of my European bias): Even in this money driven, rough, fast living, time-is-money, urban and individualistic environment there is a lot of love, friendship and humanity. Humanity means also that we do things which eventually do not make very much sense, are not logical and which may be very emotional. Smoking belongs to such activities. It is an activity which needs a work break. It gives us an opportunity for a stop and for starting rethinking issues. Therefore the small cigar shop, which appears like an island within a stormy ocean, like the antipode to the bustle environment.

Sometimes some of the hurry enters the shop, but the clocks seem to tick differently there and at the end everything calms down. I like this movie.
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A quiet masterpiece of the cinema
Joseph Harder18 April 2000
I cannot begin to convey the intellectual and spiritual riches of this exquisite, almost transcendental film. I have rarely seen a motion picture with better acting or a more literate, insightful script.Harvey Keitel, John Hurt, Stockard Channing, Ashley Judd, Forrest Whittaker, and all the other players contribute some of their finest performances.The film itself ends with a "Christmas story' which conveys more of the religious-and humanist-meaning of that holiday than a thousand scmaltzy TV specials.Watch this movie, watch it carefully. Rarely has the beauty and sublimity concealed behind the facade of quotidian existence been better conveyed in a film.
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The beauty of the commonplace, if we can see it
csm2318 May 2002
Every once in a while, a film comes down the pike that is so refreshing, so rich, you'd swear it was inspired by some immortal spirit who condescended to take human form in order to share her perspective with us. Smoke is one such film.

Although there's nothing particularly special about each of several main characters, seemingly picked at random off of a New York street corner, they come off as noble, even heroic, in spite of the fact that their collective problems amount to nothing more than the usual garden variety. The main character, for example (Auggie Wren, played by Harvey Keitel) is a tobacconist around whose shop the main characters revolve. He has an unusual habit: every morning, at the same time of the day, he photographs the same street corner, and puts the pictures together in a series of albums. It's time-lapse photography on an enormous scale. He can't explain why he does it. He just needs to do it. And it's a really marvelous device for delivering the movie's main theme: everything that matters, all the meaning in the world that can be condensed from holy books and vows and catechisms and poems, is right there before us. We just need to have the eyes to see it. The things we tend to dismiss as prosaic, out of familiarity, emerge from the pages of his album as special, wonderful, enchanted.

There's a great line in the movie about how Sir Walter Raleigh measured the weight of smoke. He took a cigar, weighed it, smoked it, and weighed the ash. The difference between the cigar and the ash was the weight of the smoke. Although he new nothing of the chemistry of combustion, he did the best that he could, based upon what he knew. Likewise, Smoke is a movie about people with limited knowledge and perspective. Their assumptions are often wrong; but, they do the best that they can. A small, seemingly insignificant piece of information can, and does, change everything.
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A movie that can be watched several times with joy
theaudrey841 December 2005
After I read the comments for Smoke, I was fascinated by the power of cinema while I realized that most of the people felt the same things as I did when they watched the movie. I watched Smoke several times without getting bored and still I sometimes watch some scenes. The characters are so real and the dialogs are so natural that I feel like I meet my friends or a part of my family when I watch it. I feel like if I went to Brooklyn, I would find that tobacco shop with Auggie sitting at the desk, chatting with others.

The beautiful scenes are also unforgettable… The first scene where Paul tells about the weight of smoke… The scene where Auggie says that the light, season and people are different in the photos that he takes every day… I also love the end, where Auggie tells the Christmas story to Paul and the white-black scene with the song of Tom Waits.

When you watch the movie, you understand that it is just the little things - a chat with your friend, a moment of happiness, a Christmas story told at lunch, a photo- and the feelings in life that matters. That's why maybe we feel so happy and relaxed when we watch the movie: We forget about the daily stress and want to be a part of Auggie Wren's world.
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Get Smoke in your eyes
cinecism-22 June 2000
Wayne Wang's "Smoke" is one of those perfect little movies that knows not to aim any higher than it needs to. Like Mike Leigh's "Life is Sweet" a few years back, it closely observes the day-to-day lives of a handful of people, in this case the patrons of and workers in a Brooklyn cigar shop, and leaves it at that. Don't expect The Moral to come creeping into the dialogue; the fact that the lives of Auggie Wren (Harvey Keitel, in another example of why he's the best actor working today) and his friends are compelling IS the point. Writer Paul Auster, basing his script on his op-ed story in The New York Times, keeps on chugging out smartly-written people even up to the seventh and eighth character. It's a rare treat to have an ensemble movie in which there isn't a single weak performance, and even rarer to have one supported by writing and directing that are up to the task. All of these elements come together come together in "Smoke," an artful story about the art of storytelling.
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Like blowing square smoke rings
britpimp5 July 2002
This is one of the most awe inspiring movies that i have seen *EVER*. At the time of watching I was getting very bored with the standard fare Hollywood was churning out and bought this movie on a hunch after having seen an interview with 'Wayne Wang' or Paul Auster (can't remember which now!) totally hit me and restored my faith in film making, especially in the plain and (deceptively) simple style. The best bits of the film have to be the tale at the end, and the photograph albums. What is it?...'Everyone needs a hobby.' This is an exceptional movie, take a break from your hectic life and let the Smoke waft over you! (I should write tag-lines!! ;-) )
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A beautiful urban poem.
SMOKE is a beautiful movie about nothing at all and at the same time about everything. I don´t even know how to describe it to someone, i guess it´s undescribable. It´s one of those rare movies that it has to be felt. If you don´t feel it, then you are missing the whole point. SMOKE is one of those rare movies which we don´t know how to recommend this to our friends, because it´s so original and simple that there is nothing to describe. Anything we might say ,it only will give the illusion this is an shallow or boring movie. SMOKE is not an adventure, not a drama, not a comedy, not a cops movie, not an action movie, so what it´s about ?!! It´s about life. But in a real way, and surprisingly not boring.

This movie is very similar to Luc Besson´s - Le Gran Bleu (The Big Blue). The story it has nothing to do with it, but it´s a movie to also be felt.

This is an actors movie, and they all do an incredible job. Sometimes they make us want to go to New York and go talk with them. Then we remember that they are not real, and we wished they were. Harvey Keitel and William Hurt are perfect in their characters and it´s a joy to watch them act. The movie could be only both of them talking to to each other, that it would still be a great and not boring movie.

This is a very well writen, acted and directed script, and we don´t find many of this everyday. And it has a fantastic soundtrack also that fits perfectly in the story. The final scenes with a Tom Waits song are realy poetic. The music almost becomes a character in the movie.

Beautiful, beautiful movie. Unmissable !

By the way, if you can, watch the "sequel" also, because it´s as good as the original. It´s called "Blue in the face". Don´t miss it.

SMOKE is a magnificent movie.
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Harvey Keitel's best?
deemo319 November 2003
I'll try to make this short and sweet. This is simply one of the greatest movies I have ever seen. Even the credits can't be missed. Harvey Keitel and William Hurt are just unbelievable. Ashley Judd makes you want to kill her. There are so many gems in this movie you would think it came from a South African diamond mine. This is NOT to be missed. It's sort of a non-linear Quentin Tarantino format without the violence. Several great stories spun by a master. Two words: SEE IT.
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Like Augey says...
1point2124 May 2003
"you'll never get it if you don't slow down my friend"

"you're going too fast"

"you're hardly looking at the pictures"

"Slow down, huh?"

Chill. Forget special effects. Story. Basic. Classic.
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A Beautiful Film
agvii19 March 2003
Though the writing is very "stagey", the acting is fantastic all around. The more you allow yourself to get into this movie, the more you will enjoy it. The soundtrack insidiously lulls the viewer into a state where the everyday is made beautiful.

This movie is full of overlooked performances by some of today's best actors, including Forest Whitaker, Harold Perrineau Jr, (who most people know from the OZ HBO series), and Ashley Judd, whose takes one of the smallest roles in the movie but develops an extraordinary character.

Harvey Keitel and William Hurt have a dynamic in each scene that shows the true brilliance of each actor. Stockard Channing plays a character that could easily have been overacted with a style and realism that engage the viewer.

Certainly a movie you have to put yourself into, but you won't be disappointed if you do.
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Keitel's finest role
rutgeralan3 August 2004
If you were ever to imagine Harvey Keitel if he'd never acted, this is what he would be doing. The quintessential "cool", Harvey is at his most human in this role as a cigar shop owner in Brooklyn. Showing his tender side, he has hired a 'slow, mentally impaired' local from the neighborhood to sweep the pavement. His shop is a place where people with a revolving interest of Cigars, go to hang out and talk about life, love, and bullshit. It is the epicentral natural dialogue through which each character speaks that makes this movie so warm, humorous, and incredible. A great movie, 5 stars all around. -Al
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One of the best movies ever made about human experiences.
tnelson642 January 2004
This movie by top notch actors is one of the best movies written on the human experience. I can understand why these actors must have fell in love with the script. It is simple, for the most part easy to follow and the acting is tremendous. I would recommend this movie to people of all ages, I must warn you it may affect you more than any other movie ever.
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The Place where all Stories Meet.
steelguitar_t1012 January 2003
Based on the Christmas Story that writer Paul Auster published on the New York Times on 25th December 1990 "Auggie Wren's Christmas Story".

Director Wayne Wang incorporates into the film 6 stories, from 6 people who have separate lives, but meeting in one place Auggie's Cigar Shop (played by Keitel).

The story of a somewhat frustated writer Paul Benjamin(Hurt), and his meeting with a young thug, and his father whom he never met (Whitaker).

With a beautiful photography of New York seen from each characters perspective, Auster makes a superb script and beautifully directed by Wang.

The film is a nice view of Brooklyn where all things meet.
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One of the ten best films I have ever seen.
Templar-514 November 1998
Never before have I seen such everyday people brought to the screen in such a believable and moving way. Wang has translated Auster's story brilliantly, playing the silent observer among some great scenes where Kietel, Hurt and Perrineau shine with the dialog they are given.

This movie is slow, but it is an excellent account of how people relate to each other and behave under strained times. Hurt's character is beautifully constructed, surrounded by others who each have their own interesting story.

Its companion piece, 'Blue in the Face' is funny, but strays in a different direction. I would like to see more of these types of movies made; they explore so much, so expertly, with so little.

I'm a guy whose favourite films are 'Star Wars', 'Superman' and 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. But this film is such a surprise and a stand out in today's mundane slew of films that for me, I couldn't ignore it. I can't recommend this film more strongly.
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Great movie!
MovieAlien21 June 1999
Finally, a movie that relies more on simple, character-driven plot than action. Though some scenes might prove sentimental, "Smoke" was a wonderful film filled with thought provoking dialogue, and a good story, which is all so seldomly seen these days. No one else could of played Auggie; Harvey Kietel was made for that role. Another brilliant conversation piece from Wayne Wang.

Only criticism: Ashley Judd didn't belong in the role as the estranged daughter, and the video box is very, very, misleading.
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a true humanistic movie
cornelius siccama22 January 2006
This is a movie about storytelling. Stories that go up in smoke, but not to say weightless. Re the story of sir Walter Raleigh to queen Bess about the weighing of smoke. Everyone tells a story in this film; some true, some false, but always leading towards a direction in life, some good some bad. Joan Didion once wrote:"We tell ourselves stories in order to stay alive". And that is just what happens to everybody in the film. Life is meaningless until we give it meaning by telling stories. Rashid tells a false one, one with a twist. Auggie tells one with his photographs. Paul put his in a novel and makes one up from a story from Auggie. In the end we see that it is a true story. see the movie with care and attention and you will be enchanted.
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a truly enjoyable movie
actrbd1 April 2005
This is a story of the crossing of the paths of a diverse group of characters with ostensibly nothing in common but who, for a variety of reasons become important in each others' lives. The strength of the movie lies in the relationship between two characters: the novelist, Paul Benjamin, and the owner of the smoke shop, Auggie Wren. While it appears that they have had a superficial relationship for some time, the relationship deepens when Auggie shows Paul his photograph collection. The culmination is the conversation they have over lunch when Auggie tells Paul his Christmas story. This is a movie with interesting subplots as well and superb acting. I particularly like the song which plays at the end - it's a moving tune which perfectly fits the mood of the story.
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Gentle Story Of Everyday Folk
Cabrone21 November 2002
This is one of the best films I have ever seen, a gentle story describing the various lives of a group of people linked around a cigar store in New York.

The usual Hollywood formula for thrills and spills is replaced with beautifully crafted characters and intelligent dialogue, peaking with the wonderful christmas story as told at the end of the film.

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Great Movie
cantonsing26 August 2002
One of my favorite movies. Great characters, wonderful depth of feeling, I see something new in this movie each time I see it. Has so many layers of meaning in both the story line and the characterizations. I especially love the Christmas sequence at the end, with Harvey Keitel visiting the old black lady in the projects.
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A solid, smart, entertaining film.
Gogo-108 May 1999
There are some wonderful performances (most notably, William Hurt's) and some great monologues. Sometimes, however, I was bothered by the dialogue which seemed too stylized and called too much attention to itself.
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One of my favorite movies
ngear-216 April 2002
I have seen this movie about 6 or 7 times and it is just wonderful. I can see where it might not be for everyone, but I found it beautiful. The video cover is a bit misleading. It isn't really a comedy, even though it has some humor. It IS really a sensitive and literate story about touching relationships between some very interesting characters.
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Masterly lesson in story telling, worth a best script Oscar
OldCusser16 March 2002
There are so many stories here, and so delectably told, that one almost swoons with pleasure. All budding writers should study it for its lessons in how to spin a tale - many tales. Tremendous laidback performance by Hurt and cheeky one by Keitel. It is hard to know who deserves best actor Oscar and who best supporting actor. Certainly should have been best picture of its year and a regular on list of ten greatest films. In brief, I'm impressed.
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A truly excellent Movie experience
holo_dan24 November 2001
This is the kind of movie usually shunned by the mainstream, instead of using loads of SFX, it relies on a more valuable asset - it's cast!

Hurt and Keitel are fantastic and bring their character's to life in a grand style - the rest of the cast is great also. Wang's direction is fresh, yet the narrative is not lost in an art for art sake attitude - sweet. Auster's script is also great.

The movies greatest attribute is that it is very human.
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Smoke is the best movie about life.
Sert-228 February 1999
Excellent story from Paul Auster and wonderful work from Wayne Wang! I've seen this movie about 50 times and I'm going to continue watching it til the end of my life.This masterpiece makes me enjoy the easiest thing that I do by showing the great sides of everyday life. Harvey Keitel is on the top of his career as Auggie Wren. I think this is one of the most difficult characters to play because you have to be very naturalistic. He shows all his talent to make Auggie someone beyond us. There can never be any movie simpler and greater. You have to live this movie.
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