Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Leaves of Grass: An Effective, Offbeat Drama

What if your past came back to haunt you in the present? The 2009 drama Leaves of Grass offers one answer to that question. Bill Kincaid (Norton) is a philosophy professor at Brown University; he’s been successful in the world of academia, and is being courted by Harvard to create a philosophy curriculum within their law school. A phone call from home changes everything. Bill is told his twin brother Brady has been killed. Bill hasn’t been home in years and left his old life behind to start over.

Bill heads home to Tulsa, but discovers Brady (also played by Norton) isn’t dead. He’s hatching a plan to break free of his allegiance to a drug distributor, and start over with his pregnant girlfriend. Brady’s a pot grower, who makes some of the most potent weed in the state. He needs Bill to pose as him as part of his plot to outwit the drug dealer. Bill refuses at first, but is drawn into the plan, and also has to deal with his own demons, and his memories of the family he left behind.

Norton is excellent in the dual role, as the strait-laced Bill, and the free-spirited Brady. He expertly conveys Bill’s reluctance to deal with his old life; the mixed emotions he feels for his brother, and his buried feelings of resentment towards his mother (a nice supporting turn by Susan Sarandon).  As Brady, he shows how the brother who stayed home feels about his sibling, who left his family behind, and never looked back.

The story goes in directions you don’t expect, with moments of drama & pathos mixed with some unexpected black comedy. The fine supporting cast includes Keri Russell, Richard Dreyfuss and Tim Blake Nelson (who also wrote & directed the film). A soundtrack of Southern style rock & folk is a nice touch that adds flavor to the movie. This is a unique film, a little different from the usual Hollywood product. The closest comparison would be the films of The Coen Brothers (Blood Simple, Fargo, Miller’s Crossing). If you’re a fan of intelligent dramas that are a little off center, then I recommend you give Leaves of Grass a try.

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