Boy, I'd imagine Eddy Norton has a bit of puff n stuff for breakfast, as we can tell from "Down in the Valley", because you'd have to be on some good ol' fashion cowboy hash to think that movie was a good idea. Yeah, I was thinking of using his three year relationship with Courtney Love as evidence too, but then my mental block of that swillfest of a film failed on me. No wonder he's into Asian stuff; they've got that there opium; and yet, there's even more evidence that Norton is hittin' the pipe, like his short-term memory clearly being shot, because he keeps forgetting that he already did the multi-personality role in his first film. Forget Hulk; it was only a matter of time before he just went ahead and played twins, but hey, he's still one of the greatest actors who ever lived, so I don't care if he plays the same role, or for that matter, a rhinoceros Barney ripoff-I mean Larry Flynt's lawyer-I mean a white supremist-I mean a safe cracker going undercover as a mentally disabled janitor-I mean Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. Wow, he's actually more diverse than I thought, but let's still retain hope that he gets out there and shows that off a bit more before people continue to not see his films and he has to resort to a new low, like being on some bad "ABC" sitcom like "Modern Fam... Okay, I better get off of his filmography before I find out even more painful truths, like him being in a terrible romantic drama about a cowboy randomly showing up in the suburbs to claim Marilyn Manson's wif-oh no, the mental block has failed again! Well, luckily, he'll always make up for that mistake by not only being one of the greatest actors ever, but also starring in one of the greatest films ever made, as well as a couple of other not too shabby films like this one, which isn't to say that this is as perfect as "Fight Club", because it certainly has its share of missteps.
When I heard that this film had a budget of a mere $9 million, I felt a bit upset, because I'd figure a master actor like Ed Norton would be more valuable. Imagine my relief and further frustration when I found out that Norton clearly did cost a pretty penny, and in order to get him, they had to cut out some expenses, like an editor. No, I know that the film has an editor, but considering that Mr. Michelle Botticelli doesn't even have a Wikipedia page, he must not be a very popular, and that's understandable, considering that he just does not know when to cut, letting scenes and dialogue just drag on and on, leaving the film to get a bit dull from time to time. Well, I suppose that Botticelli isn't completely to blame, because director/writer Tim Blake Nelson is clearly a little too proud of his work and just doesn't know what to cut from the script. Of course, the problem with the way he writes and executes the script is not just in what he doesn't cut out, but what he does, in fact, cut out, such as tonal transitions, because when this thing goes from comedy to thriller, it just comes out of the left wing and you just don't see it coming, making it a touch hard to latch on the newly arriving tense aspects. Granted, the tone shifts aren't as offputting as everyone says, but the problem still stands, and it certainly doesn't help that when the film does get dark, it gets maybe a little too dark and disturbing. Yes, Blake Nelson makes his fair share of mistakes with this film, but really, in spite of it all, his film still comes out strong and enjoyable, partially because of the writing, flawed though, it may be.
As much as I've complained about Tim Blake Nelson for not trimming down too much on the dialogue, it's hard to blame him, because he's written plenty of snappy, neat and charming lines to keep you going through the overdrawn scenes, which isn't to say that the film doesn't also get a push from an undeniably enjoyable country soundtrack. Still, what carries this film the most are the charismatic performers, from Keri Russell, to even Tim Blake Nelson himself. Still, it should come as no surprise that the far and away biggest standout is the lead, one of my all-time favorite actors, the great Edward Norton, who is virtually seamless as two entirely different people. It's not like most other dual performances, where it comes to you that this is the same guy; you know right out of the gate that Ed Norton is two different people, because he's so immersive in his transformation as either one of them. Now, I've been fighting for respect for my beloved home of Alabama, so it pains me to do this, but I have not choice but to take a step back in my protest and admit that some parts of Alabama, like the rest of the South, are more rural than other. I've yet to run into the racist, incestual drugee that everyone things most everyone of us are, but in certain parts, you couldn't throw a bottle of moonshine whiskey without hitting a thickly accented, good ol' fashion redneck, and as someone who's seen plenty of those people, I can proudly proclaim that Norton nails that character - accent, Southern charm and all - for the Brady character, while really getting Bill's struggles to escape his heritage by making him an entirely different person. However, both Bill and Brady share not only characteristics to allow you to see them as brothers, but an electrically compelling atmosphere that really tosses you onto both of them as leads, and if you see this film for no other reason, see it for yet another masterful performance by my man, good ol' Eddy Norton.
In the end, the film often limps along, though not quite slowly enough to have time to set up proper transitions as the tone makes its eventual and very drastic shifts, but no matter how slow or inconsistent it is, you can always expect consistently sharp dialogue to keep you going, though not as much as the charming performers, especially leading "men" Edward Norton, who's masterful dual performance plays a key part in making "Leaves of Grass" the generally entertaining charmer that it is.
3/5 - Good