Leaves of Grass is a film about twins, two brilliant twins, only on different levels of the cultural scale. Bill is a philosophy professor, well known among his peers. His brother Brady is well known too, although instead of philosophy, he is known for his expertise in growing pot.
Both come from a father who was intelligent as they come, but loved smoking weed as much as anyone. It does explain the end result, Bill and Brady both enjoying an occasional smoke as well, but their paths showcase two different attitudes toward life. Bill even ditched his southern accent as not to immediately reveal his birthplace to those that he meets.
Both are played by Edward Norton, the rarely visible camera tricks that keep them together on screen impressive, especially for a small indie effort. In those terms, Leaves of Grass pushes strong for that indie cred, a goofy, lighthearted set-up filled with quirky situations. Brady’s grand scheme is to use his twin brother to out a drug lord and get away with it.
Direction by Tim Blake Nelson directs this as a breezy comedy, the lighthearted tone mixed with an air of drama as Bill must deal with not only his drastic change of surroundings as he heads south under false pretenses, but the brother he hasn’t seen in years, and the mother he abandoned. The family dynamic is never too forceful, just awkward. The “fish out of water” element is hilarious, and Norton plays each character with a sense of intelligence, even the heavy pot smoker who in his own right is a genius. His system of growing the plant is absurdly complex, breaking the usual stoner stereotype while crafting a character with some, well, character.
It is where Leaves of Grass goes that is so disheartening. The film shifts dark, beginning with a string of murders, brief shoot-outs, and the character deaths that feel out of place. Leaves was so light and energetic with the right level of natural drama, smarty written too, that the ending feels tacked on as if Tim Blake Nelson (also the writer) simply ran out of ideas. Things spiral out of control quickly, giving the film a resolution in terms of its characters and plot, but the whole thing is such a downer when you’re prepared for the opposite. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]
Leaves was shot digitally with the Red One, and it does make itself obvious. Compression, whether at the source or from this AVC encode, is readily apparent early. Walls behind the characters are littered with notable blocks, and some smearing becomes evident during some lightly motion-oriented sequences. Noise is a non-issue save for a scene late in the warehouse at night, around 1:30:00 into the film. The handheld sequence that follows suffers the same fate, although with the exaggerated motion, noticing it is none too easy.
Generally though, despite the light layer of compression, this is a pleasing effort. Colors are slightly elevated to produce warm flesh tones and nicely saturated primaries. The greens, from Brady’s pot factory to the establishing views of the house, are wonderfully reproduced here. A bright contrast aids in bringing the colors to life, while the deep, natural blacks bring out the image’s depth. Shadow detail is preserved.
Detail in close is superb, reproducing a wide range of facial texture. A small scar on Brady’s face, the key identifier between the brothers once Brady’s hair is cut, is always visible. Pores are well rendered and defined, the clarity and “window” effect excellent. A brief role for Richard Dreyfuss produces a reference-level shot inside the church at 55:36, the level of definition on display truly flawless.
The transfer takes a tumble when it moves out into the distance. As Bill first tours Brady’s, um, “greenhouse” at 32:31, he is dwarfed by the plants which fail to produce significantly resolved leaves. In fact, they appear a bit mushy, lacking the refinement of the close-ups. The same goes for the outdoor sequences where trees are present, a short date between Bill and Janet (Keri Russell) at 51:36 a disappointment considering the brilliance of the location. Grass is poorly resolved, and trees appear overly digital. The same goes for the actors, colors poorly separated when the camera pans out, leaving them overly smooth and unnatural, sapping that window effect right out of the frame. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Video]
First Look/Millenium seems confused by audio codecs. The menu lists a TrueHD 5.1 (along with a compressed stereo) mix, yet the actual content is a standard Dolby Digital affair. For much of the film, the movie is driven by dialogue anyway, which despite the compression sounds fine. It is well resolved and clean, no digital irritations to take note of. It is balanced well too, the minimal music and other ambient effects handled with care.
When the guns start firing at the end of the film, prepare for almost no surround work aside from a slight echo. Bullets fired carry only limited punch on the low-end, if any at all. The high-end isn’t offensive, just not very powerful. Again, the elements mix well, but the whole thing is a little underwhelming. Surely the film isn’t gunning (pun not intended) for any spectacular aural experience in the first place. However, making such a blatant menu error is basically inexcusable. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Audio]
Extras include a small making of that runs a bit over 11-minutes, and is vertically stretched for maximum annoyance. Trailers are the only other thing on the disc. [xrr rating=1/5 label=Extras]