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. Writer-director Tim Blake Nelson masterfully weaves an array of quirky characters, competing themes and various story strands into a highly enjoyable, surprisingly emotional tale of family and redemption.
Norton stars as Bill and Brady Kincaid, estranged identical twins who reunite after scruffy pot grower Brady, aided by loyal sidekick Bolger (Nelson), lures buttoned-up, Brown University classics professor Bill back to their Oklahoma hometown to secretly help him take on a problematic Tulsa drug lord ( Richard Dreyfuss, memorable). Though appalled by his charmingly sketchy brother’s bald-faced manipulations, Bill reimmerses himself in the backwater world he escaped for more intellectual pastures, reluctantly reconnecting with the wildly different — yet maybe not so different — Brady and their eccentric mother (well-played by Susan Sarandon), while sidling up to a lovely local high school teacher ( Keri Russell) who’s as comfortable gutting a catfish as she is reciting poetry.
Brady’s score-settling scheme takes a number of effective if violent, Coen-brothers-like twists and turns, while subplots involving a love struck college student (Lucy DeVito) and a desperate orthodontist (Josh Pais, hilarious) add to the well-juggled complications.