Movie review: Tulsa filmmaker blends pot, poetry, philosophy in ‘Leaves of Grass’
Actor-writer-director Tim Blake Nelson returns to his Okie roots in his wild and woolly new movie, “Leaves of Grass.” And those roots encompass an amazing array of influences: the formal discipline of Classics study at Brown University; Tulsa’s colorfully diverse Jewish community; the hyper-literate melding of comedy and violence a la the Coen Brothers; the odd marriage of rustic provincialism and worldly sophistication that informs the filmmaker’s Oklahoma upbringing.
Nelson himself is a man of many parts – a gifted character actor with a flair for earthy comedy (most famously displayed in his gem-like performance in the Coens’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) and a celebrated playwright-filmmaker astute at tackling profound issues of morality (the existence of God in “Eye of God,” Shakespearean urgencies in “O,” and the collective Jewish conscience in “The Grey Zone”).
Those two parts come together neatly in “Leaves of Grass” (the title itself suggests a heady dichotomy – wacky tobacky or the words of Walt Whitman?), which is graced with an uncanny duel performance by star Edward Norton.
In Nelson’s enjoyably loopy mash-up of philosophy and poetry, marijuana and murder, Norton plays Oklahoma twin brothers Bill and Brady Kincaid, identical siblings who’ve traveled very different paths. Bill is a buttoned-down ivy league Classics professor and a rising academic star who long ago shook off the red dirt of his Okie past; Brady is a scruffy, loosey-goosey pot grower and toker in Little Dixie with his own homegrown philosophical take on hydroponic farming methods.
Though long estranged, the two brothers are reluctantly reunited when Brady gets crosswise with a Tulsa drug kingpin and lures Bill back home with a trumped-up family emergency and a loony scheme to extricate himself from an onerous debt.
This sets up an escalating comedy of errors, mistaken identities and pithy philosophical ramblings that inevitably lead the shaggy-dog tale off into bleaker and bloodier territory.
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