To call Leonard Cohen the world's greatest living lyricist isn't so much an overstatement as it is an inevitability—over the course of 11 studio albums and roughly 40 years, Cohen has essentially rewritten what it can mean to be a writer of pop songs, influenced countless songwriters in his wake, and single-handedly redeemed Canadian popular culture for all of its many transgressions. Armed only with an Armani suit and a congested voice, Cohen has stood as a model of humble dignity and musical understatement—in a vocation whose shamelessness is second perhaps only to prostitution—for close to four decades.
So I guess Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man is just yet another inevitability: a superfluous big-screen tribute to the enigmatic croaker that vacillates between compelling Cohen interviews (the good), banal, somehow self-congratulatory musings from Bono (the bad), and live performances from a well-meaning, if questionably executed, 2005 Australian tribute concert (the unnecessary). These disparate elements are given thread by first-time director Lian Lunson's awkwardly heavy-handed editing choices, and conclude in a strangely anticlimactic (and clearly lip-synched) studio performance featuring Cohen backed by the members of U2. (An aside: How fucking arrogant does a person have to be to wear sunglasses when you're backing Leonard Cohen? Answer: Bono arrogant.) In short, it's a bit of a mess.
To his credit, Cohen is never anything less than totally engaging when he's actually given a voice in the film—a far too infrequent occurrence it seems, as most of the rest of the film seems pretty trivial by comparison. Despite some highlights (Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, and Antony, among them), the concert performances seem largely like an experiment in awards-show overstatement.
The real shame is that roughly one-third of I'm Your Man borders on brilliance—the third that treats Cohen like a warm-bodied and creatively vital artist instead of prematurely eulogizing him. The third that focuses its camera on a witty, unassuming old man instead of a bunch of bloated rock stars grasping desperately for a touch of credibility. The third that's—surprise!—actually about Leonard Cohen.