Review: Leaves of Grass (TIFF)
PLOT: Bill Kincaid (Edward Norton), an Ivy League professor, is lured back to his Oklahoma roots by his identical twin brother, Brady (Norton, sporting a mullet and some stubble) a small time pot dealer, in trouble with a local drug lord (Richard Dreyfuss).
REVIEW: I was expecting big things from LEAVES OF GRASS, as I'm a huge fan of Edward Norton's, and I know this has been a pet project of his for awhile. I've always thought he was one of the best actors to emerge in the nineties, and his work in films like AMERICAN HISTORY X, FIGHT CLUB (one of my favorite films), and THE 25TH HOUR is astounding. However, in the last couple of years, he hasn't really been in anything that's done it for me (although I did enjoy THE INCREDIBLE HULK but it probably would have been just as good without him), so I was looking forward to seeing him once again sink his teeth into a meaty role.
Sadly, LEAVES OF GRASS is not the film I hoped it would be. It's essentially a Coen Bros., imitation with some fun touches but overall it's a very minor film for all involved. Director Tim Blake Nelson (who also co-stars as Brady's drug running sidekick), has done some fine films in the past but it seemed like he couldn't find the right tone to hit with this. Is it a comedy, a drama, or a crime film? It aspires to be all of those things and that's fine if you're the Coens or Quentin Tarantino, but Nelson doesn't pull it off. Some of the big twists that are thrown our way towards the end of the film are supposed to be shocking- but considering what we've been watching for ninety minutes- they just seem silly.
He doesn't really get any help from Norton, who's WAYYYYYYY too over the top as the criminal brother- Brady. He affects this thick, nasal, Oklahoma accent that doesn't seem to be the least bit genuine (and doesn't match any of the other accents on display), and also tends to change every few minutes. Obviously he's having a blast in the role but I felt, as an audience member, that I was not in on the joke. He fares better as the straight laced brother, who at least doesn't have the accent, but as Brady has the real meat of the story this poses a problem. Another issue is that there's simply too much story packed into the 100 minute running time with a romantic subplot for Bill, with Keri Russell, coming out of nowhere. The time really should have been spent examining the twins relationship, or fleshing out the issues Bill has with his mom played by Susan Sarandon.
Yet, while the film is seriously flawed, I wouldn't come out and call it an outright bad film. I had a decent time watching it, and Richard Dreyfuss has a gem of a role, as the Southern, Orthodox Jew drug dealer. He's great, and in one scene, actually attacks someone with a menorah. My only problem with his role is that it was too small and I wanted more of him.
Depending on the overall reaction to the film at TIFF, I have my doubts to whether this will ever see the light of day in a big way, or if it'll end up in the direct to DVD bin in a few months. It's not an awful film, but nowhere near the film I thought it would be, and for me is one of the few truly disappointing films I've seen at TIFF this year.
Other reviews from TIFF: MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS - UP IN THE AIR - JENNIFER'S BODY - THE INVENTION OF LYING - DAYBREAKERS - YOUTH IN REVOLT - THE BOYS ARE BACK - THE ROAD - THE INFORMANT!- BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS