THE UNITED STATES OF LELAND
A HESITANT THUMBS UP FILM REVIEW RATING!
Why do people do good and bad things? What purpose do they serve? The "why" question is pondered to a fatalistic ending in THE UNITED STATES OF LELAND, starring Ryan Gosling (HALF NELSON) as the emotionally detached Leland P. Fitzgerald.
Leland is introduced to us during a terrible scene in which a young retarded boy lay stabbed to death on a grassy playground. It appears that Leland has had some sort of mental breakdown, as he stabbed the boy and then himself, "just to see what it felt like." But as the movie progresses we see plenty of emotional distance from the other characters, too. Leland’s own father Albert (Kevin Spacey, SUPERMAN RETURNS) hasn’t had much contact with Leland since he was eight years old. Leland’s previous girlfriend Becky (Jena Malone, DONNIE DARKO) zones out by shooting heroin and isolating herself away from her family. Even Leland’s mother Marybeth (Lena Olin, CASANOVA) simply slips in and checks on Leland occasionally, only asking if he’s "okay" even when it’s evident he’s not.
The only one interested in Leland turns out to be a teacher at the prison where he’s held after the murder. But even the teacher, Mr. Pearl Madison (Don Cheadle, HOTEL RWANDA), is only occupied with Leland as a way to break out of his writing slump (he’s a would-be author with serious blockage problems).
Leland questions the "why" of everything around him, and it’s an interesting message that gets pulled from the film. Why is it you’re considered "only human" when you do something wrong and not something right? Like pulling a little kid from a burning building. Why don’t we show emotions in equal measure when someone dies? These are tough questions that trickle out of the film.
The downside is that the movie doesn’t give us a good reason for Cheadle’s character to be enraptured with Leland so early and so quickly (considering that’s a large portion of the film, it’s pretty significant). And most viewers won’t like the incredibly slow pace, as well as the occasionally stilted line delivery. But that’s it.
The cast is excellent, from Spacey’s spacey father to the embittered and lost Malone, the characters were fairly riveting to watch, even though all that happens is some intense dialogue throughout.
In the end, it’ll all depend on your expectations and mindset. If you’re expecting something that moves along at a good clip, forget it. If you’re in the mood for action, blood, and fights, don’t even think about it. But if you’re ready for some deep contemplation, The United States of Leland is right up your alley.