Sunday, October 10, 2010

Leaves of Grass

It's rare for the following two things to coincide: One, a small-time actor, writer & director scripting a story with two leading characters, to be played by a specific, prolific actor, whose refusal would have resulted in the script itself being scrapped; and Two, the actor himself willing to be so desperately keen to act in the movie that he forgoes half his pay to simply bag the part. Leaves of Grass might seem like a feeble attempt at bridging a gap between the Coen brothers and well..(Pineapple Express??) Tim Blake Nelson might be more memorable as the somewhat dazed Delmar character from O Brother, Where Art Thou? But here he is with a script, a production budget and even proving he can direct a movie himself. I'm not familiar with his Grey Zone and Eye of God, but if he could write a complicated script with such ease, I'm certainly lauding him for them too..
And there's Edward Norton, the man who would never agree to appear in a film he didn't believe he had reason to respect, playing two opposite roles now with a subtle, yet b/w contrast.
From the opening scene to the close, we see worked out in the transformation of young and admired Brown University Classics Professor, Bill Kincaid (Norton), that regardless of any improvement we may think we have made in our lives or our selves, we never really leave our childhood homes and family, for we carry it and them with us, and we should, as we try to somehow balance the past with the future, the rational and intellectual with the emotional and experiential, control with unbridled exuberance.
While the script is one of ideas, the movie is realized by a great cast, full of humanity and warmth and life. We learn, for example, from Bill's high tech state of the art hydroponic agrologist-gone-haywire pot growing identical twin brother, Brady (also Norton), the relationship between God and parallel lines. Brady, with a false message of his own death, tricks brother Bill, who has eschewed and remains estranged from his family, into returning home to the small town of Idabel in southeast Oklahoma (closer to Hope and El Dorado than Tulsa) to help with Brady's scheme to negotiate a loan extension with the state's drug kingpin from Tulsa, the otherwise respectable oilfield equipment purveyor and Jewish philanthropist, Pug (delightfully and fiercelyplayed by Richard Dreyfuss). After being fetched at the airport by Bolger (Tim Blake Neslon), Brady's best friend, partner in crime, and all around Sancho Panza, Bolger takes Bill to the rival drug gang's headquarters, to test whether they will mistake Bill for Brady. They do, and Bill is pummeled to senselessness, only to wake up at Brady's home, discovering that Brady is alive and wants him becoming a participant in a scheme for an alibi if the drug loan renegotiation, as he thinks it will,turns bad.
Bill is unwilling, at least until the persuasive Brady charms him into a monster bong hit of the 7th generation Uber-potent bud being cultivated by Brady and Bolger. As Bill the professor is "annihilated" in a puff of smoke, Bill the brother begins to become reborn, relearning from Brady what he has forgotten, a passion for life, in all of its quirky, messy, deadly serious, loving, and improbable guises. As Brady's plan unfolds, Bill is bound ever closer in the scheme, and to the family and place he thought he could do without in his quest for success and control over his life. Charmed by local teacher and poet, Janet (played with equal parts innocent charm, brutally competent knife-wielding non-chalance, and subtlety by Kerri Russell), Bill learns from her the ancient art of noodling for monster catfish and is reminded by her recitations of, and commentary about, Whitman's free verse, and her own, that not all that is beautiful and majestic follows classical rules of form and expectation. And love, that terrible beauty, is born. In reuniting with his mother, a pot-smoking ex-flower child fed up with the world, who has checked herself into a nursing home so that she "can do as she pleases" (played by the ever beguiling and compelling Susan Sarandon), Bill learns of the patience, depth, frustration,and courage of love that lets go and trusts. And when Bill seeks forgiveness and understanding for a terrible wrong by his brother from Pug's rabbi (rivetingly played by Maggie Siff), he learns that atonement is only approached, but perhaps never achieved, by the hard work of righting what is wrong.
The comedy, as mentioned, is pitch black and the sudden switch from laughs to gasps happens in a blink of an eye, honestly you won't see what's coming before your left open jawed at the outcome. Its this kind of storytelling that keeps viewers riveted, you just don't know what's coming and that I feel is the secret to a really good film.
This is a solid debut from Blake Nelson, albeit held together by Norton, so it's going to be interesting to see what he does next.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. Will make into my watch list.

    P.s: I have two entries for the Indiblogger share life contest, please read and promote it if you like it.

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