This new Tim Blake Nelson picture tries to answer the question, "what does it take to make a happy, constructive life?" in a way that is hardly as deft as filmmakers like the Coen brothers have accomplished. It's not something that Walt Whitman would wish on his readers or lovers of cinema.
Leaves of Grass would appear to be a solid production based in Shrevepart, Louisiana as it is primarily set in Oklahoma with a dual role for the talented Edward Norton (The Illusionist).
Norton is upwardly mobile Ivy League academic classic professor Bill from a trailer-trash childhood lured back to his Sooner State hometown. There, his twin brother, Brady, a pot cultivator, has developed quality in his produce, yet beholden to the resident crime lord Pug Rothbaum (Richard Dreyfuss). Pug drapes over his side business by presiding at the synagogue.
In a film with a dozen producers and executive producers, Nelson's screenplay looks to be a well-honed foreboding comedy with its way about hydroponics and morals as Brady knows he's getting in too deep with the pernicious Pug. A plan using his mother, an underused Susan Sarandon (The Lovely Bones), and Bill to work way up to the big city finds the farcical undercurrent take a sharp mordant and unforgivable turn.
Because of an assured early section, the mistaken identity stuff becomes inexplicably low-brow and unable to recover in the kind of satisfying way had it started it out with more entropy on its mind. Thus, the chance to see two very different personas isn't a good thing for Norton fans which must have been too alluring for the actor not to pass up.
Keri Russell (so good in Waitress) can only do so much as Bill's love interest, as she, Dreyfuss, and Nelson himself as a backwoods yokel offer the requisite verve for their parts. But, it's all in the service of a lurid death wish, an arthouse version of Pineapple Express with its philosophical and drug-related elements unfolding in an off-putting small-time way.