Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
THE UNITED States of Leland takes a cold, hard look at the darker
side of humanity yet curiously squanders the potential it shows
during its early stages.
Over-populated by a great cast and hindered by pretentiousness,
the film asks some interesting moral questions, yet isn't sufficiently
engaging enough to make the answers worth finding.
The film focuses on teenage killer, Leland P Fitzgerald (Ryan
Gosling), who has stabbed the autistic brother of his ex-girlfriend
to death in supposedly cold-blood.
While his guilt is never really in question, it is the reason
why he committed such a heinous crime that is.
Was the crime an act of spite caused by the break-up of his relationship?
Or was it connected to his upbringing, during which he was forced
to endure a distant relationship with his famous author father
Indeed, was there ever really a reason in the first place? Or
is it that society needs to find reasoning in order to try to
understand such abhorrent behaviour?
Asking many of the questions is Don
Cheadle's youth detention teacher, Pearl, a frustrated writer
who views Leland's story as an opportunity to overcome writers'
Despite bonding with each other, however, there are no easy answers
and it's not long before Pearl begins to question some of the
dubious life decisions he has made in recent times.
As previously stated, The United States of Leland shows plenty
of potential and begins strongly, yet cannot sustain its early
The central character, for instance, is so remote and isolated
from empathy that audiences will have trouble caring about him
or his fate, while Cheadle's Pearl is similarly difficult to embrace.
Key support players, such as Spacey or Lena Olin (as Leland's
mother), are also afforded too little screen-time, thereby highlighting
even more of the movie's failings.
Director, Matthew Ryan Hoge (who also wrote the screenplay),
takes such a pessimistic view of society that the film eventually
starts to grate.
If, as I suspect, he is attempting to conclude that some acts
defy explanation, no matter how bad, then he is playing a dangerous
For in creating a world that is prone to random and nonsensical
acts of violence, Hoge has created a screenplay that deprives
us (the audience) of hope.
That, in itself, makes viewing a film like The United States
of Leland pretty arduous going. He didn't therefore need to make
proceedings so pretentious as well.