Bright Leaves (2004)
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Critic Reviews for Bright Leaves
Bright Leaves is not the kind of film that thetruth.com would use in its anti-smoking campaign.
A gently provocative film diary about tobacco and its mixed legacy.
Bright Leaves is a beguiling film. Watching it is like spending time with an old, somewhat chatty but endearing friend.
It's a meandering visit by a curious man with a quiet sense of humor.
Audience Reviews for Bright Leaves
Self-indulgent and overwhelmed by grating narration, but with the occasional addition of a small, interesting historical fact.
Fascinating, free-form documentary by SHERMAN'S MARCH filmmaker Ross McElwee. Dude is definitely becoming one of my favorite documentarians. He's like Errol Morris with a heart.
Ross McElwee (Sherman's March) documents his trip back to his roots in North Carolina, where he endeavors to uncover the truth about his great grandfather, who was rumored to have created the Bull Durham tobacco blend, only to have the formula stolen from him by cigarette tycoon James "Buck" Duke. At the same time, McElwee ponders the disreputable legacy that people like his great grandfather has left for our generation. Like most of McElwee's documentaries, Bright Leaves is highly personal. I think his internal journey typically trumps any instructive or educational value his movies might impart. In other words, he's filming anyway...he might as well make a documentary. This attitude hasn't hurt the product; his movies are entertaining and thought provoking. With Bright Leaves...not so much.
He hammers home three main ideas. 1) His family was robbed of a vast tobacco fortune. 2) People who work in the tobacco industry typically construct moral double-standards in order to live with themselves. 3) Smokers are addicted to cigarettes.
In the past, McElwee would have insured that these observations carried equal doses of humor and catharsis. In Bright Leaves, he nails the catharsis, but forgets the humor, not unlike a whiny child whose ice-cream cone has just hit the asphalt. At least two of his points seem so axiomatic, I wonder why he needs to cover them. Oh, well, at least he also gives us generous portions of his family's unique history.
Despite my grousing about this particular movie, I hope McElwee continues to make documentaries, because I really do like his soft-shoe approach to filmmaking.
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