Sunday, September 19, 2010

Movie with Abe: Leaves of Grass

Leaves of Grass
Directed by Tim Blake Nelson
Released September 17, 2010

Edward Norton is an astonishing actor, and it has been a number of years since he has delivered a truly exceptional performance. In past years, he was incredible in films such as “Primal Fear,” “American History X,” “Fight Club,” and “25th Hour.” He is no stranger to playing characters with multiple personalities, and therefore it should not come as a surprise that his portrayal of two twin brothers in the same film is one of his most extraordinary yet.

In “Leaves of Grass,” the new film from actor-director Tim Blake Nelson that is finally being released in theatres after being postponed from April, Norton takes on two different people, brothers whose paths have diverged since being close as children. One is a philosophy professor at a prestigious university in the northeast, and the other is a drug dealer in his native town in Oklahoma. Bill is a distinguished intellectual who has tried to erase any hint of his Midwest accent and has found himself quite comfortable in high society. Brady is just as good at what he does, even though his profession is hardly as respectable, especially in the eyes of the more illustrious brother who seems to have forgotten his hometown.

Norton feels so comfortable on the screen when he first appears as the kind-hearted and friendly Bill. When Brady shows up, he is a wholly different personality who possesses an amazing ability to talk and make people listen, even if he really is saying nothing at all. The two characters feel like completely separate people, and they seem to have a bond even though they are portrayed by the same actor. This is easily one of the best multi-character performances by an actor, and it is great to see Norton back in form after regrettable choices like “The Incredible Hulk.” Norton is capable of so much more than a one-note role, and this is exactly what he should be doing with his talent. This film is also the perfect vehicle to showcase his abilities.

“Leaves of Grass” is eerily reminiscent of last year’s Best Picture nominee from the Coen brothers, “A Serious Man.” It has the same foreboding nature and feeling of things having gone horribly wrong despite a lighthearted and comic start. There are funny moments and entertaining speeches, but it seems like it is never safe to laugh because danger might be lurking just around the corner. Watching the film, you feel like Bill, the urbanized brother, returning to a now unfamiliar place with only drug dealers to guide the way. It is an unsettling but equally rewarding experience that shrewdly mixes humor with horror in the most gripping of ways.

It is no mystery that Tim Blake Nelson’s film feels like it comes straight of the oeuvre of the Coen brothers since one of Nelson’s signature film roles is that of Delmar in their 2000 film “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” In “Leaves of Grass,” which Nelson also scripted, the characters are considerably wacky and exaggerated, yet they all seem to possess a certain wisdom about the way the universe works, and it is fascinating to get inside their heads. It is a film that is both unnerving and satisfying at the same time, and whichever emotion turns out to be stronger, it is indisputably a fulfilling experience.


Please note: a version of this review was published in the Washington Square News back in April.

No comments: