Rated R for violence, pervasive language, and drug content, 105 minutes
Norton's a treat in the amusing dramedy "Leaves of Grass"
"Leaves of Grass" is a pleasantly enjoyable dramedy often played out with broad, cliched strokes but highlighted by two memorable performances from Edward Norton. Norton believably plays two very different twin brothers in the film directed by character actor Tim Blake Nelson ("O Brother Were Art Thou" among many of his films). Without Norton's excellent turn, the independent film wouldn't amount to much, but it's certainly worth a look.
When Ivy League classics professor Bill Kincaid (Edward Norton) receives news of the murder of his estranged identical twin brother, Brady (also Norton), in a drug deal gone bad, he briefly leaves his job to travel back to his small hometown in Oklahoma. Upon arrival, he finds his brother's death has been exaggerated, and he's quickly caught up in the dangerous, unpredictable world of Oklahoma drug commerce. In the process, he attempts to reconnect with his eccentric, hippy-chick mother (Susan Sarandon), meets an old friend named Janet (Keri Russell), now an educated young woman enjoying a simpler life, and unwittingly helps his troubled, hick brother and his partner (Tim Blake Nelson) settle a score with a malevolent drug lord (Richard Dreyfuss).
The entertaining, low-budget "Leaves of Grass" is made watchable by Norton's tour-de-force performance as the twin brothers. It's overly ambitious and stereotypical; an uneven second act throws it off some, but there enough good moments to keep you engaged. Nelson is a serviceable director though his script is too conventional, particularly in the broad way it draws the Southern characters (enough with the fake accents, please).
But Nelson does handle the trick shots with the twins with relative ease, with little evidence that he shot the scenes separately and added one later. However, location shots make it evident that it wasn't shot in Tulsa but Shreveport instead (one clue: Tulsa doesn't have any marshy wetlands). Sarandon and Dreyfuss are seen too briefly in somewhat nonessential roles, but it's nice seeing the Oscar-winners play different parts.
"Leaves of Grass" works best as a fish-out-of-water comedy with the brothers trying to reconnect, and it falters when it focuses on the crime subplot in the second act, with a few unnecessarily violent scenes that simply don't belong in the film. Uneven moments aside, this is Norton's film, and it provides the talented actor with a meaty, showy role that often wins awards.
"Leaves of Grass" (not a great title by the way) is an enjoyable movie worth seeing for Norton's solid turn and the twangy bluesy-country flavored soundtrack.