A double performance by Edward Norton as two entirely opposite brothers is, surprisingly enough, not the only reason to see this film. Yes, Norton's a master of his craft and his stoner hick brother and oxford-cloth uptight prof brother are both equally masterful creations. He dominates every scene, on par with Nicholas Cage's similar turn in Adaptation or more recently Sam Rockwell's in the slow-burn space opera Moon. But even without a competent lead like Norton at the helm, the film succeeds, chiefly do the the adept writing/direction of Tim Black Nelson, who incidentally has a side-kick part as a dim-witted trailer trash fella with a heart of pure gold.
The script is great. Beginning with a philosophy lecture that doesn't feel at all forced and eventually delving into some pretty shocking violence (and lots of pot smoking...with pot that LOOKS LIKE REAL POT! Seriously, pretty convincing for once) the film is a down-home roller coaster ride that even manages to work in Whitman's titular namesake to pretty good effect. Don't except straight up comedy, as the film is pretty gory at times. The tone, in fact, takes a sort of 180 degree shift about 2/3 of the way in, becoming more dramatic ala a warmer, brighter Fargo or a more subdued, less western-oriented Red Rock West. The effect of this shift is a little disorienting, but ultimately it works, seeming to freshen the proceedings. There is palpable suspense. We feel for Norton's characters, both of them. His accent is pretty good and his eyes (especially as the rural brother) are strange and intoxicating. I can't stress enough how unique and interesting this film is. It works as a crime drama, stoner comedy, philosophical treatise on life/the choices we make that make us. It is equal parts funny, screwball, bloody and in the end pretty life-affirming. There are a couple scenes that feel sort of contrived (one subplot involving a wayward Jewish orthodontist seems a little too easy, but is interesting nevertheless) but overall this is a high-brow bit of sweaty-palmed but laugh inducing entertainment and not be missed if you have a fleeting interest in pot flicks and/or low-life crime character studies.