The movie Smoke, released in 1995, is a character driven intimate film that has as its central character a cigar shop in Brooklyn, New York.
Harvey Keitel plays the storeowner, one Auggie Wren. In Keitel’s capable hands he’s portrayed as a loveable rascal, the kind of guy who has seen it all before and doesn’t take crap from anyone.
His little cigar shop is a real neighborhood place and the regulars constantly shuffle in and out of the store for their tobacco fix. They really don’t do much other then hang around and shoot the “you know what” with Auggie while enjoying a smoke.
At the core of this gentle film is the sense of how small things can become big just by the nature of their timing. Much like the proverbial rock thrown into the water, the ripples of these characters lives begin to interconnect with one another as the film progresses.
One of Auggie’s regulars is a novelist, Paul Benjamin, played by William Hurt, who has stopped writing since the death of his wife a few years back during a robbery just outside the cigar store.
Paul is now a broken man who cannot overcome the loss of his wife, and his only pleasure seems to be the cigarillos that he compulsively smokes and buys from Auggie’s store.
Hurt imbues in Paul this sense of a man disconnected from the real world; a man so wracked by pain that he has shut off the experiences of his day-to-day life.
This disembodiment almost succeeds in him getting run over by a truck, but by sheer coincidence his life is saved by a young black man.
Forced to snap back to reality, Paul and his articulate newfound friend, Rashid, form an odd sort of relationship.
It’s a tentative friendship, but one that inspires both characters to embark on their personal quest for redemption.
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Throughout Smoke one gets a sense that coincidence is playing maybe too large of a part in the story, but because it is handled with such capable hands you never really mind.
In fact the story behind the film is that Keitel, the director, Wayne Wang, and the writer, Paul Auster, enjoyed their characters and the shoot so much that they convinced the producers to let them keep filming after Smoke was finished.
They then produced a companion piece to Smoke, Blue In The Face, allowing Keitel to reprise his role as Auggie in the movie, which was notable for its eclectic cast of cameos.
Smoke isn’t a film with big cinematic moments. Auggie invests all of his savings into buying a few boxes of illegal Cuban cigars to make some money on the side. Paul begins to try to write again, and Rashid confronts his past.
Taken as a whole these and the other dramatic events are stitched together in a way that resembles a collection of short stories. What brings them all together is this feeling that the characters have captured how fickle life and fate can be, and the importance of enjoying the simple things in between all of the drama and hardship, like a good smoke.