Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA, 2009. Millennium Films, Langley Films, Class 5 Films, Leaves Productions, Grand Army Entertainment. Screenplay by Tim Blake Nelson. Cinematography by Roberto Schaefer. Produced by Elie Cohn, Kristina Dubin, John Langley, Tim Blake Nelson, Edward Norton. Music by Jeff Danna. Production Design by Max Biscoe. Costume Design by Caroline Eselin. Film Editing by Michelle Botticelli. Toronto International Film Festival 2009.
Classics professor Edward Norton has worked hard to make himself the foremost scholar on ancient Greek philosophy, so much so that top Ivy League schools are starting to court him for their faculty. The future is threatened when he gets a phone call telling him that his decidedly opposite-personality but identical twin brother (also Norton) is dead. The good twin goes home to Oklahoma, the place he thought he had left behind years before, only to discover that the bad twin is still alive and needs his help on a drug deal—it seems the errant sibling is looking to become the king of the pot dealers in Tulsa and needs someone who looks exactly like him to be his alibi. Meanwhile, professor Norton is forced to see his unapologetically original mother (Susan Sarandon) with whom he hasn’t been on speaking terms for years. Tim Blake Nelson bites off far more than he can chew with this unfinished film; his star gives two meaty, wholly captivating performances, but the various strands of the story are too great in number and never resolved satisfactorily, while unanswered questions of the characters’ pasts leave a dissatisfying feeling. It’s possible that these ellipses were intentional, but Nelson is no Kieslowski, and he shouldn’t have made a genre-baiting heist the center of his story if he wanted the audience to veer their minds into a world of emotional abstraction. The addition of some gruesome violence in the last third is completely out of place after a sweet, intellectually minded opening; quite frankly this film is all over the place and really has no idea what it wants to be. Keri Russell has some lovely moments as a local artist with whom Norton becomes smitten.