In Tim Blake Nelson’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ we meet the character of Bill Kincaid (Edward Norton), a highly respected Professor of Philosophy at some Ivy league university. So respected is Professor Kincaid that Harvard… or was it Yale… hell if I can remember… but Professor Kincaid is so respected that one of the big two Ivy League Universities is willing to practically turn over the keys to the kingdom to him if he would just bless them with his presence. But before Bill could give Harvard or Yale his decision, he receives the tragic news that his twin brother Brady has died from the dreaded Crossbow to the Heart disease. Apparently this is a common malady in the state of Oklahoma. I did not know this. Now Bill has to go down to Oklahoma, a place he had all but put out his life forever, to bury his brother and deal with his mother Daisy (Susan Sarandon) who Bill would rather not deal with at all. On any level. Dead brother or not.
But damn if Brady isn’t really dead. Brady is a drug dealer, but not just any old kind of drug dealer because Brady is like the Eli Whitney of marijuana growers. Brady has a nice little cottage industry built up with this hydroponic growing system that he has designed and along his good friend Bloger (Tim Blake Nelson) they operate this system and they provide product for crazed Jewish Mobster Pug Rothbaum (Richard Dreyfuss). Problem is Pug wants Brady to do more than just grow marijuana and desires to expand this system to grow much harder contraband. Brady really doesn’t want to do this, marijuana being more of a spiritual thing for him, but considering that Brady owes Pug an awful lot of money, Brady has little option which leads to the ‘plan’, a plan which dragged an incredibly pissed off Bill Kincaid to Oklahoma to be coerced into fulfilling his part of the plan.
The whole plan thing is really just a side hustle in this movie ‘Leaves of Grass’ because the film is actually about examining this man who is a fish out of water, even though he was born in the water in the first place, but only later turned himself into a fish that’s now out of the water. I know that didn’t make any kind of damn sense but don’t blame me for this. You can see why Bill avoided going back home because apparently he has absolutely no power over himself when it comes to his brother. Oh sure Bill will kick and scream and whine and bitch about it, but he’s gonna do
whatever Brady wants him to do, no matter how misguided this thing might be. Then Bill has to resolve his issues with his mother who he believes was really not up to the task of mothering, and what would a movie be without a pretty girl, this pretty girl being Janet (Keri Russell) who is also Ivy league educated and published and all that stuff, but still maintains her simple down home Oklahoma values like gutting catfish, smoking dope with ones friends, and drinking liquor out of jam jars. Unlike Bill. Not that Bill still doesn’t want to get up in that. Bill was actually begging for it, which we admit was behavior not becoming of a future Harvard or Yale professor. I guess when it comes to that, no matter who you are, the same rules apply across the board.
What Bill needs to do is resolve his old self with his new self. I think we all know that this is going to happen, but it did take some wicked turns on it way to this predetermined destination.
One of the things I found really amazing about Nelson’s movie is the way that they integrated both instances of Edward Norton into the same scene. They’ve been doing the same actor as two different characters split screen effect in movies since movies started, but Bill and Brady were actually physically interacting with each other and it was seamless, at least to my untrained eye. The things they can do with these fancy computers nowadays I tell you.
As far as the movie itself goes, special effect pyrotechnicals aside, personally I thought it was a joy. Edward Norton did a great job creating two distinctive characters in twin brothers Bill and Brady Kincaid to the point that you forget at times that this was the same actor playing these two characters. As a comedy ‘Leaves of Grass’ is consistently funny, Nelson’s script is cleverly presented on a number of levels, the characters are detailed and well developed, actually feeling as if they were real people and the supporting performances were solid across the board.
If I had an issue with this movie, one would be that there are a couple of scenes of graphic violence which felt a little out of place. Not out of place in that it didn’t make sense within the framework of the story, because these scenes did, but the visual parts of the scenes felt out of place. Also, as good as an actor Edward Norton is and there are few better, I don’t know if homeboy has nailed down that whole romantic leading man part yet. Case in point being in this movie the romance between Norton’s character and Keri Russell’s character was the least interesting part of the movie, the only part of the film that felt forced despite the fact both characters were very interesting and came off as completely authentic. Oh well, waddayagonnado?
But despite those minor misgivings ‘Leaves of Grass’ was a solidly entertaining movie highlighted by yet another fine performance from Edward Norton, a statement which is quickly becoming redundant.