The United States of Leland (2003)

The United States of Leland
Director: Matthew Ryan Hoge
Writer: Matthew Ryan Hoge
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Don Cheadle, Jena Malone, Lena Olin, Chris Klein, Michelle Williams, Kevin Spacey (and about 2 minutes of Michael Peña)

The distant Leland (Ryan Gosling) just stabbed a mentally disabled boy and is sent to prison. Nobody really understands why he did it and his prison teacher (and aspiring writer) Pearl (Don Cheadle) is so intrigued that he wants to write a book about him. So he starts interviewing Leland about his life and tries to figure out what moved him to such a desperate act.

The United States of Leland has a wonderful cast but despite Ryan Gosling giving his best, Leland as a character just doesn’t work at all. Nevertheless the film is interesting, if completely predictable.

The problem with Leland is that he is an idealized character. Everything he does is because he is so much better than the rest of the world. And that might be a teenager’s perspective of the world, but that is also the reason why teenagers are so completely annoying: they believe they’re the center of the world. And also that they’re absolutely wise and deep.

And that would be bad enough if we were talking about an average teenager. But we’re talking about a guy who stabbed a mentally disabled boy 20 fucking times. While I’m against villifying criminals into monsters, there’s a difference between not doing that and putting them on a pedestal, which is what happened in this movie.

Despite that, the movie works and that is mostly due to Don Cheadle and his Pearl, and Kevin Spacey as Leland’s father. They share one scene that is the best in the entire film, but even on their own they’re awesome. Ryan Gosling is also really good, but there’s not much you can do with a character like that. Not to mention the rest of the cast that remains underused.

The movie tries to end with a bang, but it’s so predictable and cliché that instead it barely sizzles. But that just goes along with the rest of the film.

Summarising: has its moments, but ultimately doesn’t get where it wants to.

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