Toronto 2009 Review: Tim Blake Nelson's Leaves of Grass
by Alex Billington
September 18, 2009
This has been an unusually great year for dual roles in films. There's Sam Rockwell in Moon and Michael Cera in Youth in Revolt. But one of my favorite dual role films is already Leaves of Grass, which I saw up here at the Toronto Film Festival at its world premiere. The film stars two Edward Nortons (as brothers) and is directed by one Tim Blake Nelson (who also has a role in the film as well). It's a down-home kind of story set in Oklahoma about these two brothers and their family. Not only does it have quite a few good laughs, but it packs a punch in terms of action and story, and is a great bit of entertainment overall.
To call this a stoner flick wouldn't be entirely accurate. But it actually is a stoner flick, in its own way. Brady, one of the two brothers played by Norton, has created his own hydroponic growing system and grown some of the best marijuana in the region. But as with all drug endeavors, he owes a debt and has competitors that are out for blood. Bill, the other brother also played by Norton, is a successful Ivy League classics professor who wants nothing to do with his brother or mother (Susan Sarandon) and has even worked hard to rid himself of a thick southern accent (unlike Brady). But, as you might've guessed, they get back together.
Bill is tricked into coming back home in order for Brady to "use him" to pull off one final pay-off which will leave him debt free and out of trouble so that he can marry his high school sweetheart (Melanie Lynskey) and have a kid. Part of the fun is watching the dynamic between these two brothers because they couldn't be more unlike each other (at least at first glance). Norton does such a great job playing both it's very easy to forget that he's even the same guy once you get into the meat of the story. To me that was one of the strong points - part of the way through I just got wrapped up and forgot I was even sitting in a movie theater.
Leaves of Grass is a very southern kind of film, not only because it's mostly set in Oklahoma, but also because Tim Blake Nelson brings some homegrown charm to it in a way that only someone who grew up in that area could. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and I did really get wrapped up in it, but some of the plot points and characters were weak. Compared to the two brothers, the sudden love-interest, played by Keri Russell, just felt like an unnecessary addition. It's still a great film and I still enjoyed it, but it's not a grand slam. I am looking forward to revisiting it again, as it is solidly entertaining and quite enjoyable to watch.
Toronto Rating: 8 out of 10