"Leaves of Grass" Movie Review (2010)

4/14/2010 Posted by Admin

Movie Review

"Leaves of Grass"

Directed by Tim Blake Nelson, Written by Nelson, 99 Minutes, Rated R

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

This is one interesting film. Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, probably best known for his performance as Delmar in "O Brother Where Art Thou?" and his high school-based Shakespeare adaptation "O," "Leaves of Grass" is a bizarre concoction of a black comedy, existential drama, and crime thriller, and sometimes the balance between those three genres is so jarring that it becomes difficult to watch.

It plays like a modern Greek tragedy. The film follows twin brothers Bill and Brady Kincaid (played by Edward Norton), two rather brilliant men who have an excellent way with words and who happened to follow two very different paths in life. Bill has used his intellect to study philosophy and has become a highly regarded writer and professor. Brady has used his intellect to construct the perfect means of hydroponic pot production. Bill, now living in Rhode Island, hasn't gone home to Oklahoma in years, but when Brady has to make some shady dealings with a powerful drug lord (Richard Dreyfuss), he tricks his brother into visiting so that he can form an alibi.

The plot's not too bad, but the execution is an absolute mess. Nelson simply cannot maintain any of the different tones he attempts, and often the line between comedy and drama is completely skewed. Intense dramatic moments become completely absurd and laughable, and the sudden surges of really strong violence and bloodshed is tough to handle when it comes literally out of nowhere.

The strongest aspect of the film is easily Norton's dual performances. He's completely perfect as both brothers, and the way he manages to make them feel like entirely different the moment we meet them is astounding. And the little subtleties, such as Bill's southern accent seeping in every once in a while when he's really emotional, are a great touch. His performance is reminiscent of Sam Rockwell's recent performance in "Moon," or Nicolas Cage's in "Adaptation." In fact, it's not really even the first time Norton has tackled this kind of thing--he perfected it all the way back in his debut "Primal Fear," when he played a man with two personalities.

He also does a great job at making the two brothers seem similar as well, allowing their speech patterns to be nearly identical were it not for their different accents, and the rhythm of language that Norton captures is pretty great. Of course, some credit should go to Nelson's script as well, though I have to say the constant barrage of philosophical dialogue would come across a lot worse were it not coming from Norton so fluidly and earnestly.

It's a real shame Nelson is so haphazard with the tone of the film, because handled differently, this could have been quite a powerful and touching (and still quite funny) piece of work. As it is, it feels like a lazy attempt at something the Coen brothers might do. It's not really a bad film, and it's definitely funny, but it just doesn't reach its potential. It's a worthy experiment gone awry.

Grade: C-

View the trailer for "Leaves of Grass" below. What are your thoughts?

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