Posted: 09/22/2010


Leaves of Grass

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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Leaves of Grass, with Edward Norton playing the roles of identical twins, totally, absolutely caught me by surprise. It’s a movie filled with drugs, murder and brotherly love, in the vein of A Simple Plan or Fargo.

Norton plays both Bill and Brady Kincaid. Brady is a no-good drug dealer living near Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Bill has escaped a fractious life by becoming an esteemed Classics professor at Brown University, living on the East Coast. Their mother, played by Susan Sarandon, has checked out of life by checking into a home, even though she’s able to live on her own. She raised her two boys, smoking dope with them and not providing much guidance.

Brady is not just your average drug dealer, he has a grow house, complete with intricate lighting and rows and rows of cannabis. But things aren’t going well for Brady, and he wants to stop his business, as he and his girlfriend are expecting their first child. He needs to liquidate but needs money in order to do so.

To start off, Bill gets a call saying that Brady has been killed in a drug deal gone badly, even though Brady is his live, well and conniving self. This sets off a chain of schemes that turns into death, doom and disaster for both brothers, but more importantly for Bill, as he has much more to lose.

Brady has devised a plan to settle a score with a Jewish businessman, played by Richard Dreyfus, whom he owes money for investing in his marijuana ranch. Dreyfuss is really the face behind the area’s drug traffic, although he hides under the cloak of a man who’s done good for the community.

Brady simply needs Bill to go visit his mother at the rest home, to provide an alibi that wouldn’t place him at the drug lord’s location. This is where things go completely crazy! Bill isn’t cozy with his mom, and when he first arrives at the home, a security guard roughs him up, thinking that he’s just a cleaned up Brady.

Bill cuts his visit short with his mother, to arrive home just in time to see the newscast that announces the murders of Dreyfuss and a couple of associates. But the twist is that it’s being pegged as a hate crime—because the assailants painted backwards Swastikas throughout the crime scene. Brady is livid, because he may not be as educated as his brother, but he insists he’s not anti-Semitic.

At one point, Bill tells Brady that he’s “so brilliant and so monumentally, selfishly ignorant at the same time.” And this is so true, as Brady couldn’t have run a successful marijuana harvesting business, if he weren’t smart.

The rest of the movie involves the two brothers covering their tracks, but the more they cover, the more obstacles arise. Toward the very end, after so much blood shed and carnage involving others, Bill’s life is threatened. Leaves of Grass is a great, exciting, nail biter that tests each brother’s love for the other, while asking the philosophical question: what does it truly mean to be happy? Norton is fantastic in the dual role of the twin brothers. Keri Russell plays a beautiful intellectual who catches Bill’s eye, because she never left the backwoods of Tulsa; and Tim Blake Nelson, the movie’s director, also plays Brady’s sidekick, Bolger.

Leaves of Grass is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from, as well as in limited release in theaters. For more information visit the Web site Leaves of Grass will release on October 18, 2010

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.

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