Edward Norton shows great versatility in playing twin roles — one twin is a Louisiana pot grower, and the other is a philosophy professor in Boston. Nice contrast. But the problem is that watching him play both parts is distracting for the required suspension of disbelief. When a scene contains both of them together, you’re sitting there thinking about how they did that. Especially when one twin begins to display characteristics of the other, and even imitating the other, we know we’re watching a performance that may be gifted acting, but we haven’t lost ourselves in the story.
The plot itself is fairly standard — an intelligent boy who happened to be raised in a poor family decides to move away, and his return visits are infrequent because he feels he’s grown past his upbringing. There are a few wrinkles. Something untoward happens to the professor when a staff member walks in his office just as he is resisting the very physical advances of a young female student. This doesn’t look good for him, even when he’s not at fault. But when he does finally go see his twin brother back home, he discovers that the guy who talks like a hick and is mixed up in the drug business also has cleverly devised a quality homegrown greenhouse. Of course, he’s using his smarts for illegal activities. And his competition for the trafficking may not be as genteel as he’d like. In the end, he’s still dealing with a bunch of thugs and crooks.
There is a very endearing conversation, though, between him and his best buddy, in the car, where his buddy asks him if he believes in God. Our drug dealer then explains how he envisions a set of parallel lines, like train tracks, that in theory go on forever, it’s just that he can’t see that part of it. He says it’s the only way to try to make sense of the difference between what he sees, and what he knows is there, but can’t see.
Another interesting little scene was the rabbi talking about how the world is broken, and it’s our challenge to try to repair it, each in our own way.
There’s some tongue-in-cheek humor here (some country hicks try to make a simple killing look like a hate crime, but get the swastika backwards). There’s a hint of romance (Keri Russell quoting Walt Whitman?). There’s a cameo by Susan Sarandon (playing the twins’ mother), who’s always a pleasure to watch. But while “Leaves of Grass” is a different style of film, which is welcome in itself, it’s also a little convoluted and sometimes awkward and somewhat pretentious.
And shouldn’t the rabbi have been preaching about Jacob and Esau instead of Moses?
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.