The United States of Leland

"OK"

The United States of Leland Review


In The United States of Leland, vaunted young actor Ryan Gosling ostensibly plays the mysterious title character, Leland P. Fitzgerald, a teenager facing a prison sentence for the murder of the mentally challenged younger brother of his ex-girlfriend Becky, but for the most part he's doing a passable Jake Gyllenhaal impression.

Maybe I've seen too many Gyllenhaal movies, but Leland's slightly hunched posture and quizzical facial expression, indicative of a familiar detached dreaminess, recalls indie prince Jake constantly, right down to the casting of go-to indie girlfriend Jena Malone as Becky (who acted alongside Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko). To be fair, I wasn't thinking of Gyllenhaal for every second Gosling was on screen. Sometimes I was musing over his unfortunate resemblance to Screech from TV's Saved by the Bell.

I don't blame Gosling, who doesn't seem like a bad actor so much as adrift in a role that must've been difficult for him to nail down. Leland makes (too many) pithy observations starting with "people always say" in some scenes, and seems borderline autistic in others; the lack of connection between these aspects of his character marks the difference between intrigue and genuine fascination. This lead character is a self-made challenge for writer-director Matthew Ryan Hoge; it's understandable that he never meets it, but less so why he wrote it in the first place.

If Leland was the enigma at the center of perfectly modulated drama, this might not matter. It does, though, when most of the movie only makes it to that first level -- interest and involvement, not enlightenment. Hoge is like a moderately talented musician tackling an ambitious symphony, hitting perfect and bum notes in equal measure. The way the camera catches Michelle Williams's little exhale after pretending to be asleep in front of her well-meaning boyfriend (Chris Klein), for example, is beautifully observed. But these nice touches keep jostling up against moments that feel false: Would a teenager who just shot heroin really spring so immediately to attention to cover her tracks, as if hiding a cigarette or a joint?

Yet I was never bored with The United States of Leland -- if Hoge is a little too attached to his characters and the actors who embody them, it's understandable. The serially underused Don Cheadle has a strong showcase here as Pearl Madison, a prison teacher and "aspiring writer" who takes an interest in Leland. It's a gesture of both compassion (anyone else in the position do so is too traumatized, mystified, or paralyzed) and selfishness; it's clear from the start that he, as another character puts it, "smells a book." Pearl talks to Leland in off-the-record one-on-one sessions, part counselor and part journalist, allowing Leland to talk about himself, trying to get at the impossible "why" of the horrible crime. One of the screenplay's best qualities is the way it shows Pearl's undeniable weaknesses as a human being, even as he reaches out to Leland in ways others cannot.

Other cast members make an impression, notably Kevin Spacey, back from his early-aughts tour of schlock, as Leland's superstar novelist of an absentee father. In his too-short and too-isolated screentime, Spacey seems to be saying: Look, I'm stealing scenes for a good cause again. The film's women are less lucky; Malone is only half-believable--sort of a fair-weather junkie. Williams isn't given much to do, and the two of them barely register as sisters, let alone sisters whose younger brother has just been murdered.

I suppose Hoge would like his film to speak for itself, but Leland, like its title character, talks a lot without necessarily saying much. The elliptical (Leland's psychological state) and the boilerplate (the faltering relationship between Williams and Klein) don't mix well here. If your audience is expected to grapple with how a seemingly sweet kid could commit murder, shouldn't "why make this film?" come with comparative ease?



Facts and Figures

Run time: 108 mins

In Theaters: Friday 25th March 2005

Box Office USA: $0.3M

Box Office Worldwide: $343.8 thousand

Distributed by: Paramount Classics

Production compaines: MDP Filmproduktion

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 34%
Fresh: 31 Rotten: 59

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Pearl Madison, as Leland P. Fitzgerald, as Allen Harris, as Albert T. Fitzgerald, as Becky Pollard, as Marybeth Fitzgerald, as Julie Pollard, as Harry Pollard, as Karen Pollard, as Ayesha, as Mrs. Calderon, as Charlie, as Bengel, as Guillermo, as Ryan Pollard

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Hampstead Movie Review

Hampstead Movie Review

Deliberately appealing to older audiences, this undemanding comedy-drama comes with a hint of social relevance...

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

With this fifth Transformers movie, it seems clear that Michael Bay is still trying to...

Churchill Movie Review

Churchill Movie Review

This drama about the iconic British prime minister tells a darkly personal story set over...

Gifted Movie Review

Gifted Movie Review

This is one of those films that dances right up to the edge of soapy...

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Notorious British filmmaker Nick Broomfield teams up with Austrian music documentary producer Rudi Dolezal to...

The Mummy Movie Review

The Mummy Movie Review

To launch their new Dark Universe franchise, Universal has taken an approach that mixes murky...

Advertisement
My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

Daphne du Maurier's 1951 mystery-romance novel has been adapted for theatre, radio, TV and film,...

Wilson Movie Review

Wilson Movie Review

It's never helpful when a comedy becomes a bit too smug about its own quirkiness....

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

A fictionalised story from the life of Wolfgang Mozart, this lavishly produced period drama is...

The Hippopotamus Movie Review

The Hippopotamus Movie Review

This British satirical comedy may be a bit of a mess, but since it's based...

Detour Movie Review

Detour Movie Review

This may look like a rather typical American indie thriller, but British filmmaker Christopher Smith...

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Boldly optimistic, this action-packed adventure breathes fresh life into the DC universe with a welcome...

Baywatch Movie Review

Baywatch Movie Review

Clearly, it's a risky proposition adapting a cheesy vintage TV series for the big screen:...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.