STUDIO: First Look Studios
TIME: 105 Minutes
- Making Of Featurette
One twin is an Ivy League professor and another is a drug dealer in a podunk town. They’re both brilliant but have drifted apart but when the latter gets ‘killed’ his brother comes home for the funeral and gets more than he bargained for.
Writer/Director: Tim Blake Nelson
Cast: Edward Norton. Edward Norton. Tim Blake Nelson. Richard Dreyfus. Keri Russell. Josh Pais. Susan Sarandon. Maggie Siff. Melanie Lynskey.
Leaves of Grass is a fun little flick that showcases the old Edward Norton we grew to love balancing a very convincing Southern charm with a cynical sophisticated veneer in two different and well realized twin brother characters. He’s supported by a really weird and interesting cast in a film about small towns, family, losing one’s inhibitions, and how things can turn on a dime and get really bloody.
Blake Nelson is forging himself a rather nice career as an actor and a
filmmaker, adding to his skills as writer of plays and all around nice
dude. Leaves of Grass
is his latest project and it’s a wonderful blend of dry comedy,
philosophy, social satire, and crime. One could say his time spent with
the Coen Brothers has rubbed off on him, but he’s been a twisty and
bendable talent since day one. With that said, this is definitely of the
ilk movies like Fargo and Blood Simple
but dusted with something different, something that’s still cerebral but more earthy
than those films. It certainly works because though it experiences
quite a tonal shift around the midway point it still has enough fun
moments to justify the trip.
This isn’t one of those really laugh out loud funny films but rather one where the smiles are plentiful and the little world that’s been presented has such a nice relaxed and lived-in feel that you just want it to go on and on. It’s a comedy but one with a brain and a dark streak through it.
meet Norton’s clean cut professor Bill Kinkaid as he lectures his class
and subsequently fends off a student’s advances and it’s pretty obvious
that the man is on the brink of becoming something special. The big
schools are recruiting him and he has managed to rise above the humble
and disappointing beginnings he left behind in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Or so he
thought. His brother Brady has gotten himself into deep debt with a
crime lord (Richard Dreyfus, no I am not kidding)
and knowing that the only way Bill would home back home to help him is
by faking his death, he does exactly that. What the more respectable
Kinkaid comes back to is a marijuana empire being born out of Brady and
his partner Bolger’s (Nelson) imagination, one whose blend of high
science and TLC is only threatened by smaller minded drug dealers
wanting to bend it for their own purposes. Needing an alibi, Brady uses
Bill as a decoy to place him in their hometown while he pays a visit to
his rival. Things go bad and soon both brothers are in deep shit.
The weird thing about Leaves of Grass
is that the plot of the movie isn’t very good but it still winds up as a
very rewarding experience. Superficially it’s a crime flick and on that
criteria it doesn’t stand as any sort of forward progress, but as is
the case with many of the smaller and ultimately more effective genre
bending movies it makes up for the difference with charm and wit.
Whatever the intent was, Tim Blake Nelson has made a surprisingly
resonant movie even though I found myself wanting the story to go a
different way. The characters are so fun that you don’t want things to get violent. The graceful way Nelson sneaks in philosophy and cultural statements is so sublime and the actors are so up to the task that it’s a shame that the “A” plot needs to keep moving forward because there’s possibly a greater movie here had it just been about a fractured family coming back together.
As it stands it’s still a very good flick, just one with some identity issues. Edward Norton does some of his best work here, creating two very interesting characters whose differences are vast, though he manages to seemingly shield the characters themselves from the aspects they have in common. He’s obviously having a lot of fun (he also produced the film). Some of the best moments involve both brothers playing off each other and with Tim Blake Nelson being so tightly connected to the Oklahoma culture, his accents are spot on.
Nelson also does good work here and since most know him as the silliest of the Soggy Bottom Boys from O’ Brother Where Art Thou? it’s nice to see him play another role that showcases some similar traits but one backed by much more intelligence and wit. He and Norton are a good tandem and Keri Russell is a nice diversion as the girl back home Bill takes a shine to. It’s nice to see the idea of going home to the simple life handled in a more complex way, because the leading character seems to be playing the role of the savior from the outset but instead of him solving everything Nelson allows him to grow and be swept up in the situation as well. It feels more natural and though the mother character played by Susan Sarandon is given the short shrift and is extraneous (which seems to be happening with Sarandon in a few movies lately), most of the subplots and characters (especially Josh Pais, who does nutty very well) have some nice shading to keep things interesting.
This is one of those movies that embodies the notion of the whole being better than the parts. It suffers a little multiple personality disorder but still manages to establish itself as a sleeper of a film a lot of folks are going to fall in love with and recommend to others and that’s almost wholly on the terrific Tim Blake Nelson and his bag of tricks.
There’s a decent little featurette on the disc but the commentary by Tim Blake Nelson and Edward Norton is a must listen. They obviously love this quirky little movie and the track is fun and loaded with anecdotes but also a nice look into the process they both approach their craft from. They spend a good bit of time on little things from the production and on a few occasions Norton gets so excited about an upcoming moment (many involving Josh Pais) or reaction, that he asks the viewer to rewind and watch it again. Nelson’s a great sport about all of it and it seems he could have done another commentary track by himself with all that he has to say on the subject. The commentary helped shape my view of the film. As a casual viewing, it’s a quirky crime flick. After hearing them speak about it, it takes on greatest significance. It’s impossible not to start to become defensive about this little film and want to love it having seen it with the commentary track and it’s a nice change of pace. This is about as laid back and off guard as you’ll ever see these guys and it’s contagious.
Oh, and the cover art is absolutely shitty. Why did they do it? It’s absolutely going to hurt sales. It looks like a movie that someone of Edward Norton’s stature would have tried to block the release of, a skeleton in the closet. It’s the opposite, a film that deserved a better release that needs home video to bring it to its audience. Why they used that cover is beyond me.
out of 10