During an extended period of writer's block, Brooklyn-based author Paul Benjamin (William Hurt) begins to spend more and more time hanging about his local cigar store. Its owner, Auggie Wren (Harvey Keitel), has more than a few tales of his own, as does a young man, Rashid (Harold Perrineau), who makes an unexpected entrance into the writer's life. Whilst Benjamin attempts to rediscover creative inspiration, Rashid embarks on a journey to find his real father. Award-winning author Paul Auster wrote the script, expanding upon one of his own short stories.
It's refreshing to see a film in which the writer receives equal credit with the director, showing that the dialogue actually means something. So it is with Smoke
, a film about a New York quilt of contemporary characters who cross paths in a corner smoke shop, told in straightforward way by a talented acting group. Author Paul Auster and director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club
) worked on the story for years before it reached the screen. Their characters include Paul (William Hurt, in a good role again), a grief-stricken novelist; Auggie (Harvey Keitel), the shop's owner with a secret passion; Ruby (Stockard Channing), Auggie's long-ago girlfriend; and Rashid (Harold Perrineau Jr), a teenager who is befriended by Paul and seeks his estranged father (Forest Whitaker). All the characters are great storytellers, whether it be out of loneliness, necessity or just nature. Like Auster's The Music of Chance
, the film has accomplished an amazing feat: it makes us feel as if we are reading a serious novel, not watching a movie. --Doug Thomas