Leaves of Grass (film)

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Leaves of Grass
Leaves of grass ver2.jpg
Promotional poster
Directed by Tim Blake Nelson
Produced by
Written by Tim Blake Nelson
Music by Jeff Danna
Cinematography Roberto Schaefer
Editing by Michelle Botticelli
Studio First Look Studios
Distributed by Millennium Pictures
Release dates
  • September 14, 2009 (2009-09-14) (TIFF)
  • September 17, 2010 (2010-09-17) (United States)
Running time 105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $9 million[1]
Box office $1,018,753[1]

Leaves of Grass is an American black comedy/drama film written and directed by, and featuring, Tim Blake Nelson. It also stars Edward Norton, Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Sarandon, Melanie Lynskey and Keri Russell. The film, released on September 17, 2010, is in limited release by Millennium Pictures. It was featured in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.[2] It was filmed in southeastern Oklahoma in 2008.[3]


The film opens with Bill Kincaid (Edward Norton) lecturing his class at Brown University about Plato's Socratic dialogues, and discussing Greek philosophy. He dismisses the class and then meets up with his student, Anne (Lucy DeVito). Anne attempts to have sex with Bill, which he refuses. A coworker enters the room, and talks to Bill about an upcoming meeting he is having with Harvard associates.

Brady Kincaid (also played by Edward Norton) is down South lecturing two drug dealers who work for Pug Rothbaum (Richard Dreyfuss). Brady grows and sells all natural marijuana. He explains that he has no intention of expanding his sales, despite needing money to repay a debt to Rothbaum. Meanwhile, Bill talks with Dean Sorensen (Ty Burrell) about a job at Harvard in which philosophy would be included in their law school. Bill leaves, and on his way back to Brown, his brother's partner Bolger (Tim Blake Nelson) tells Bill that Brady has died from a crossbow arrow. Bill flies to Tulsa, meeting a Jewish orthodontist on the plane.

Bill arrives in Tulsa, and Bolger is waiting outside to pick him up. Bill is mistaken for Brady at the Broken Bow Market, and is beat up and knocked unconscious by marijuana dealers angry that Brady has taken half their territory. When Bill wakes, he is being looked after by Brady. Brady tells Bill that he is getting married and having a baby, and guilts Bill into staying. Brady persuades Bill to try his marijuana. Brady asks Bill to pretend to be Brady while he goes up state to take care of Rothbaum. Bill meets Janet (Keri Russell) at a party at Brady's, and is immediately smitten with her. Later that night, Bill agrees to Brady's proposal.

Bill accompanies Janet catching catfish. Janet drives Bill to the old folks home to make amends with his mother. Bill argues with his mother about her lack of mothering.

Bolger and Brady go to Rothbaum's synagogue in Tulsa, where Rabbi Zimmerman (Maggie Siff) is giving a sermon. Ken Feinman (Josh Pais), the orthodontist Bill met on the plane, mistakes Brady for Bill. Rothbaum spots Brady, and tells him they will talk elsewhere. Brady and Bolger meet with Rothbaum at his compound, where Rothbaum demands his money. When Rothbaum threatens to kill them if they don't have his money, Bolger shoots Rothbaum's thugs, and Brady stabs Rothbaum. They head to the Broken Bow Market, and attack the people who beat up Bill. Upon returning home, Bill has figured out that Brady killed Rothbaum. After an argument, Bill is called and told that his teaching is suspended, due to the earlier situation with Anne.

In Tulsa, Ken Feinman (Josh Pais) hears of Rothbaum’s murder and figures everything out. He purchases a gun and sets off for Brady's house. Ken accuses Brady of the murder. He tells Bill and Brady that he needs money, as his orthodontist career is failing. Bill stares the gun-wielding Ken down, and both prepare to leave. Brady and Bolger won't let Ken leave, and Ken shoots Brady in the chest. Bill shoots Ken in retaliation. The police arrive. Brady takes the gun so Bill isn't blamed for the murder. Brady dies.

At Brady's funeral, Bill shares that Brady was responsible for the best times of his life, and explains the regret and difficulty of leaving everything behind. Bolger takes Bill up to Tulsa to see Rabbi Zimmerman, as Brady wanted her to know that Rothbaum's murder was not a hate crime. Bill tries to sell Brady’s marijuana growing system to the Broken Bow Market, but Bill is shot through the chest by a crossbow, and Bolger kills the thug and takes Bill to the hospital. Janet visits him. Bolger is told that he saved Bill’s life, repaying his debt to Brady (who had saved his life in prison). A few weeks later, Bill is sitting outside of Brady and Colleen’s house while Daisy takes care of the baby. Janet and Bill hold hands over a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass as it starts to rain.


Credited songs[edit]

Song title Performer Written by
"Stand Up" Doug Bossi Doug Bossi
"Illegal Smile" John Prine John Prine
"My Wildest Dreams Grow Wilder Every Day" The Flatlanders Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Dan Yates
"Faithful and True" Richard Myhill Richard Myhill
"Fat Man In The Bathtub" Little Feat Lowell George
"Rex's Blues" Townes Van Zandt Townes Van Zandt
"Sailin' Shoes" Little Feat Lowell George
"Sweet Revenge" John Prine John Prine
"I Shall Be Released" The Band Bob Dylan
"Lonely Are The Free" Steve Earle Steve Earle
"Boys From Oklahoma" Cross Canadian Ragweed Gene Collier


The film premiered at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. Film critic Roger Ebert stated that he considered it his favorite of the festival.[5] DVD and Blu-ray versions of the film were released on October 12, 2010, and an extended edition is sold exclusively on Blu-ray with an additional 46 minutes of content.[citation needed]

Critical reception[edit]

Leaves of Grass received mixed reviews from film critics, with praise being given to Norton's dual performance. Rotten Tomatoes reports that 59% of 37 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 5.6/10, and the critical consensus being that "Edward Norton delivers one of his finest performances in Leaves of Grass, but he's overpowered by the movie's many jarring tonal shifts." The film received more negative reviews from audiences, receiving a 50% approval rating.[6] Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a weighted average score of 58 (out of 100) based on 10 reviews from mainstream critics, considered to be "mixed or average reviews".[7]

"Leaves of Grass has the structure and the elements of a classical Greek drama: There's treachery, mistaken identity, deadly plots, and ambition; that it takes place in the middle of Oklahoma is almost irrelevant", said Paul Constant.[8] Roger Ebert gave the film a perfect four out of four stars, and stated that "Tim Blake Nelson's "Leaves of Grass" is some kind of sweet, wacky masterpiece. It takes all sorts of risks, including a dual role with Edward Norton playing twin brothers, and it pulls them off." He closed his review with "Here's a quote for the video box: "One of the year's best!" No, Tim Blake Nelson...thank you."[9] Gary Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times also gave a positive review, particularly praising that "Edward Norton turns in not just one but two terrific performances in "Leaves of Grass," an offbeat thriller that is deepened — rather than derailed — by its tricky shift from darkly funny to just plain dark." He also praised Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Sarandon, and Josh Pais for their performances.[10] Neil Genzlinger of New York Times gave it an "NYT Critics' Pick", and particular praised the actors, saying "Mr. Norton is a pleasure to watch, and so is everyone else." He also approved of how the "film keeps you deliciously off-balance: it’s funny and unnerving at the same time."[11] Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly stated that "the movie bubbles with intellectual curiosity and narrative ambition. And for that I dig it, even if Leaves of Grass has the habit of swerving and sometimes lurching from tone to tone." She praised the acting of Norton and Keri Russell. On an A to F scale, she gave the film a B+.[12]

However, the film was not without its detractors. Dennis Harvey of Variety stated that "Nelson's script isn't blackly comic or deep enough to successfully accommodate the introduction of jarring violence," and criticized the subplot of Pais' character, Dreyfuss' performance, and the "perfunctory" romance between Norton and Russell. He did, however, strongly praise Norton's acting, stating that his dual-role "is very much the main attraction, and reward, of 'Leaves of Grass.'", and also praised Nelson's acting, stating that "Nelson himself provides the most valuable support in the colorful if variable cast."[13] Rex Reed of New York Observer was extremely critical, particularly of Nelson, saying "It’s just another oblique backfire from Tim Blake Nelson, whose work as a writer-director in general wallows in a bog of mediocrity" and that "Nelson, a cornball actor at best, is over the top as a larcenous Pa Kettle of a redneck sidekick." He finished his review stating that "The mirror-has-two-faces-idea is nothing new. From Bette Davis in Dead Ringer to Sam Rockwell in Moon, dozens of seasoned actors have lit each other’s cigarettes while the audience thinks it’s seeing double, and they’ve done it in much better pictures than this one. In Leaves of Grass, it seems irrelevant and recycled—essentially nothing more than a gimmick that wears out fast." He gave the film two "eyeballs" out of four.[14]


  1. ^ a b "Leaves of Grass (2010) – Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 26, 2010. 
  2. ^ Evans, Ian (2009), "Leaves of Grass premiere at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival", DigitalHit.com, retrieved 2009-12-18 
  3. ^ Pierce, Nev. "Edward Norton – not appearing in a cinema near you". http://www.guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 23 January 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c Sarandon and Dreyfuss to smoke 'Grass'
  5. ^ Roger Ebert's Journal: TIFF #10
  6. ^ "Leaves of Grass Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 
  7. ^ "Leaves of Grass reviews at Metacritic.com". Metacritic. CBS. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 
  8. ^ "SIFF Review Leaves of Grass". Seattle International Film Festival. The Stranger (newspaper). Retrieved 21 April 2012. 
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (28 March 2010). "Leaves of Grass". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 
  10. ^ Goldstein, Gary (24 September 2010). "Movie review: 'Leaves of Grass' - Los Angeles Times". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 
  11. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (17 September 2010). "'Leaves of Grass' - Edward Norton as Good-Bad Twins". New York Times. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 
  12. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (31 March 2010). "Leave of Grass Review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 
  13. ^ Harvey, Dennis (17 September 2009). "Variety Reviews - Leaves of Grass". Variety. Reed Business Information. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 
  14. ^ Reed, Rex (30 March 2010). "Oh, Brother". New York Observer. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 

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