Saturday, October 16, 2010

Leaves of Grass: Movie Review

A violent, comedic, crime drama, character study.

Edward Norton stars as Bill Kincaid a sensible ivy league philosophy professor who makes a trip home to Oklahoma, and Edward Norton stars as Brady Kincaid, twin brother, a rash hillbilly drug dealer who gets himself mixed up in bad drug deals and murders. Thus begins a strangely enjoyable, rambling piece of philosophy and violence. 2009

Directed by: Tim Blake Nelson

Screenplay by: Tim Blake Nelson

Starring: Edward Norton, Keri Russell

Leaves of Grass is a dark comedy, crime drama and ultimately character study. It is named after Walt Whitman’s collection of poetry, and you can see why. The film gives us poetic excerpts through each turn from red-neck comedy to philosophic musings on the meaning of life, to extreme violence. This is one of the strangest mixes of tone and style you will ever witness, the reactions undoubtedly range from masterpiece to unhinged nonsense, but given the ambition of writer-director Tim Blake Nelson and the breadth of topics found in a comedic, violent, crime drama, I’m inclined to lean towards possible greatness.

The characters of Bill and Brady give the film an interesting and funny place to start from. While the twins seem completely different – Bob is a very mild-mannered academic with short hair and pressed clothing, while Brady is a brash small-time drug dealer with long, greasy hair and unkempt appearance and demeanor. However, through Norton’s performance you see the similarities. Brady is just as smart as Bill, he just doesn’t apply his intelligence to professional trade, and Bill really did start out as Brady. Bill just worked harder to get himself out of Oklahoma and adapt to a Northeastern affluent lifestyle.

The introductions to both Bill and Brady were funny, especially Brady who can apply a more intellectual view of growing and distributing marijuana than similar characters of his ilk and as a result we got some solid pot jokes that even seem original.

The similarities of Bill and Brady work to the film’s advantage as the main plot arises from the notion of brotherly love and doing anything for family. The film slows down as it introduces us to all the different characters. Too slow as we are all anxious to see what crimes the brothers get themselves into. And then those crimes play out with a lot of violence.

The interesting thing about this film as that it really is just a character study at its heart, and while mixing in drug culture comedy and violence, we also get the philosophy of Bill as he examines who he is and what he really wants out of life. I recommend Leaves of Grass to people who like the idea of a philosophical character study played out as a violent, comedic, crime drama.

Similar Titles:

Suicide Kings (1997) - Crimes, corruption, intrigue and comedy.

Little Fish, Strange Pond (2009) - Perfect mix of intrigue, danger, tragedy, love, sex, violence and plain old American fun.