Leaves of Grass
I love it when a dramatic actor takes a break and actually jumps into a really comedic character. Sean Penn was great in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Sweet and Lowdown. Robert DeNiro was brilliant as the gay Captain Shakespeare in Stardust. Now Edward Norton had a field day in Leaves of Grass.
In fact Norton actually has two roles since he is both of the identical twins. Bill Kincaid was the brother who grew up writing long papers dissecting criticism and philosophy while Brady stayed in Oklahoma selling pot and partaking in all sorts of mischief. Bill’s life is going well with Cambridge considering him for a new professor position. Yet he’s called back home when he hears his brother was murdered with a crossbow.
That turns out to be a lie. Brady just needs Bill’s help. He needs Bill to pretend to be him so he can have a successful alibi when he has to confront a business partner of his from out of town played by Richard Dreyfus. Bill hates every part of the world he’s abandoned, especially his disappointing mother (Susan Sarandon). The only shining light is meeting Janet (Keri Russell) a beautiful woman who can quote Walt Whitman while gutting a catfish.
Norton is brilliant in this duel role. He’s very sophisticated and polished as Bill, but as Brady he’s all over the place. He has this ridiculous accent and you can never exactly tell if he’s under influence or not. Yet he’s just as brilliant as Bill but went down a different path. He’s like Mycroft Holmes, if Mycroft was more interested in growing marijuana. Neither the characters nor the performances fall into stereotype and kept within its reality.
Tim Blake Nelson wrote and directed this fascinating and funny movie with a large degree of intelligence. There is plenty to dissect about the complexity of the two brothers and how it parallels what Bill is teaching. Yet none of that ever eclipses the humor and warmth of the movie.
The movie’s shocking use of violence is really well done. It’s brutal and unexpected but adds a lot to the environment that Blake has created. The movie doesn’t even pass two hours but it feels so well realized and that is connected to the strong writing of Nelson. He is usually known as a fun character actor (Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Holes) and he also has a small part as Brady’s sidekick. I think writing is his real strength, because this movie is full of surprises and well-done arcs for its characters. This is a very strong comedy because of how original it is.
The DVD is pretty bare. There is an 11 minute long “making-of” documentary that is too cluttered with clips from the film you’ve seen. They keep interrupting the interesting comments by the people they’re interviewing. There is also a very nice commentary track with Nelson, Norton and one of its producers.
Film: 4.5 Yaps
Extras: 3 Yaps