It could have been a gimmick. cast the gifted Edward Norton as twins – one an academic, the other not. Cheers to Norton and writer-director Tim Blake Nelson for mining the script’s comic gold while hunting bigger game. The title, evoking Walt Whitman and pothead bliss, indicates the film’s ambition. Norton’s Bill Kincaid, a philosophy prof at Brown, hasn’t seen his pot-growing hick of a twin, Brady, since he left Little Dixie, Oklahoma. Brady tricks Bill to get him home. He wants Bill to reunite with their hippie mom (Susan Sarandon) and help him take down Jewish drug lord Pug Rothbaum (Richard Dreyfuss, shamelessly serving ham on wry).
The film’s mix of violence and humor may throw you, but Nelson, who excels as Brady’s pal, Bolger, is himself an Okie Jew with a Brown degree. He is clearly working through issues. We’re all the better for it. He’s crafted a hugely entertaining movie spiked with provocation. Despite Brady’s crackerspeak, he is easily his brother’s intellectual equal. Sexual, too. He hooked up Bill with the first girl who “guzzled his custard.” Still, it’s philosophy that governs Leaves of Grass, the question of whether you can live your life on a principle. Norton delivers a tour de force, a risky feat of acting that ranks with his best work. You leave this movie high on its daring.